Category Archives: North Korea

What We’ve Learned About North Korea’s New Hwasong-15 Long Range ICBM.

This Week’s DPRK Launch Test Opens New Tensions with Sophisticated Missile.

On Nov. 29, 2017, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) tested a new, claimed-longer range ICBM called the Hwasong-15. It was launched from a ballistic missile test facility in South Pyongan Province, North Korea.

The launch test was significant for two reasons.

This Wednesday’s test followed over two months without any North Korean ICBM launch tests and was punctuated by a U.S. Presidential visit to neighboring China and Asia. Some analysts suggested the two events may have signaled the beginning of moderation in the ongoing North Korean crisis.

In opposition to the theory of impending détente, this week’s North Korean missile test proved to be a continued escalation of tensions. The missile launched for the first time this week was an ICBM not previously reported by the U.S. The new missile, the Hwasong-15, has longer claimed range than any prior North Korean ICBM. Hours after the test North Korea’s official news agency claimed the Hwasong-15, “could strike anywhere in the U.S.”

Official North Korean news sources claimed the Hwasong-15 reached an altitude of approximately 2,700 miles – well above the orbital altitude for the International Space Station – and covered nearly 600 miles in horizontal distance moving east toward Japan during its 53-minute flight. This launch test was predominantly vertical in trajectory. North Korea claimed the missile, “hit its intended target” in the Pacific near Japan. If the trajectory of the Hwasong-15 were altered to a more horizontal geometry the missile could theoretically cover substantial distance. In a statement following the launch test the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit think tank headquartered in Massachusetts, voiced concern that the missile’s range was, “more than enough to reach Washington D.C., albeit with a reduced payload.”

In typically theatric tone, a North Korean newscaster proclaimed, “After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power!”

In what appears to be a staged photo (there is no missile track on the monitors) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reacts to eat Hwasong-15 missile test. (Photo: North Korean Media)

This Wednesday’s North Korean missile launch test of the new Hwasong-15 was first detected by one of only four South Korean Air Force 737 AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning & Control) aircraft, called “Peace Eye”. The surveillance aircraft (based on the Boeing 737 airliner) were delivered to South Korea between May and October of 2012. They are based at Gimhae Air Base. South Korea claims the missile was detected, “within one minute of launch”. The missile was soon also observed on radar by at least one South Korean Navy Sejong-the-Great class destroyer at sea using their AN/SPY-1D antennae and Aegis Combat System.

A South Korean Air Force 737 AEWC “Peace Eye” surveillance aircraft detected the missile launch. (Photo: Boeing)

Along with the E7, several other aircraft were monitoring the launch, including a U.S. Air Force RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, deployed to Kadena, Okinawa, Japan, able to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight; and a USAF E-8C JSTARS.

According to media reports in Asia, “Two minutes after the North Korean missile launch at 3:17 AM local time Wednesday morning, South Korean President Moon Jae-in was briefed about the provocation by his top security adviser. Six minutes after the launch, the South Korean military staged a live-fire missile exercise, in an apparent display of its response capabilities to strike the North Korean origin of provocations. At 6 a.m., the South Korean president held a meeting with the National Security Council at the Blue House bunker.”

Noteworthy observations about the newly observed Hwasong-15 include a new mobile launch platform. The wheeled platform shown in a photo released by North Korean media is larger than previously observed versions. Launching the missile from a mobile platform makes locating it prior to launch more difficult, a problem that was underscored during the first U.S./Iraq war when a significant amount of resources were devoted to finding the mobile Scud missile launchers in the Iraqi desert that were targeting Israel and Saudi Arabia.

North Korean Hwasong-15 in launch position of mobile launcher. (Photo: North Korean Media)

Military intelligence source Global Security.org reported that South Korean military officials said the maximum range projections for the Hwasong-15 could only be achieved if two key technologies of a nuclear-armed ICBM have been secured: the technology for the warhead and guidance system to survive an atmospheric re-entry and the technology to miniaturize the warhead and guidance payload. It has not been confirmed if North Korea has achieved those technological milestones.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellow Zhao Tong, an expert in the Nuclear Policy Program at Carnegie’s Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, China, told Global Security.org that this latest successful launch test of North Korea’s Hwasong-15, “could mean that the DPRK thinks it has achieved all the basic technical capabilities of a credible nuclear force and therefore no major missile tests are needed anymore. If this is the case, this could potentially open a window to de-escalate tension in the near-term future and may increase the chances of diplomatic engagement with North Korea.”

Claimed range of the new North Korean Hwasong-15 ICBM. (Photo: Union of Concerned Scientists)

 

North Korea Conducts First Missile Test in Two Months

Missile Test Reported to have Landed in East Sea Between Korea and Japan.

Defense sources and the Japanese Prime Minister’s office have confirmed the launch of a new North Korean ballistic missile test. The test, which took place within the last several hours from South Pyongan Province early Wednesday Nov. 29 local time, is now being reported across international media.

“We confirm that we have detected a North Korean ballistic missile launch. The missile is still travelling towards the direction to the East Sea, as we are monitoring right now,” a South Korean military official told media in South Korea several hours ago. Other unconfirmed sources indicate the missile has since landed in the sea.

Sometime after the first mentions began to appear in Asian media the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office tweeted, “A missile was launched from North Korea which appears to have landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone. As soon as new information comes in, we will let you know.”

The Pentagon tweeted, “We detected a probable missile launch from North Korea. We are in the process of assessing the situation and will provide details when available.”

Several U.S. intelligence gathering aircraft were airborne during the test, including an RC-135S Cobra Ball.

The last North Korean ballistic missile test took place in September 2017. That missile was identified as a Hwasong-12, referred to in the U.S. as the KN-17. The Hwasong-12 has an estimated range of between 2,300 and 3,700 miles (3,700-6000 kilometers).

The type of missile in today’s test has not yet been reported.

Reports from earlier this week from U.S. intelligence sources to Reuters news agency suggested North Korea intended a missile launch test “within days”.

Today’s test is the first North Korean missile test since September 15, 2017. (Photo: Phoenix777)

This latest reported missile test is significant since it follows a brief period of relative calm in the region since the September 15, 2017 test that may have provided the opportunity for new back-channel communication via China in the interest of maintaining stability in the region.

Top image: File photo of previous North Korean missile test from 2017. (Yonhap)

U.S. Consindering Sale Of E-8C JSTARS Surveillance Aircraft To South Korea

According to a South Korean newspaper, Washington might sell the E-8 aircraft to Seoul. Meanwhile, a JSTARS frequently operates south of the DMZ.

The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is a joint U.S. Air Force – Army program.

The JSTARS is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform. It uses a multi-mode side looking radar to detect, track, and classify moving ground vehicles deep behind enemy lines. Its primary mission is to provide theater ground and air commanders with ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting: through an antenna that can be tilted to either side of the aircraft to develop a 120-degree field of view, the JSTARS can cover nearly 19,305 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) and detect targets from a distance of 250 kilometers. Although the E-8C’s role is to build and update the picture of the battlefield, focusing on ground and moving targets, the the radar has also limited AEW-like capabilities: it can also detect helicopters, rotating antennas and low, slow-moving fixed wing aircraft even though these are partially hidden in the ground clutter. Surveillance data can be relayed in near-real time to the Army and Marine Corps common ground stations and to other ground command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, or C4I, nodes.

In other words, the E-8C, currently operated by the U.S. Air Force through the 116th ACW, is a key asset, that has not been exported outside the US. However, South Korea officially requested the JSTARS system during a Security Consultative Meeting with the United States late last month, The Dong-A Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, reported on Nov. 3.

South Korean defense officials, including Defense Minister Song Young-moo, cited the JSTARS as a top priority system with which to cope with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. […] Washington responded by expressing it will to positively consider the request. In a joint statement after the security meeting, the two allies agreed to strengthen cooperation in the South Korean military’s acquisition of state-of-the-art U.S. weapons systems.

The JSTARS, which played key roles in the Gulf War and Iraq War, was deployed to South Korea in November 2010 for the first time to closely monitor the North Korean military’s movement immediately after the North’s artillery attack on South Korea’s frontline island of Yeonpyeong Island. It was also deployed to South Korea during last month’s joint naval exercise on the South Korean waters, along with a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier battle group.”

Actually, a U.S. E-8C has been operating over South Korea, not far from the DMZ, for a few weeks. In fact, even though the presence of the JSTARS not far from North Korea is not a surprise, since the aircraft is probably constantly updating the position and monitoring the movement of the North Korean forces along the border and across the peninsula, it’s at least worth of note that an aircraft has frequently showed up on flight tracking websites since Oct. 21, more or less when Seoul voiced its interest in the asset.

Once again, the aircraft could be tracked online because of its Mode-S transponder.

Oct. 31:

Nov. 2:

As said, the presence of an E-8 (99-0006) in the skies over South Korea is pretty normal. We don’t know whether the aircraft had South Korean observers on board or was involved in a sort-of demo but what’s really unusual is the fact that such a “strategic surveillance aircraft” could be tracked online. However, as we have already reported several times, many millitary aircraft, including spyplanes and drones remain visible on flight tracking websites regardless to whether they are involved in an operative mission or a ferry flight and years after we started highlighting the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders. So much so this author tends to believe those aircraft purposely broadcast their positions for everyone to see, to let everyone know it was there. A new way to wage Psychological Warfare and deter Pyongyang.

H/T Patrick Casey for the heads up and thank you again to our friend @CivMilAir for the outstanding coverage of milair traffic around the world.

 

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USAF F-35As Deploy to Japan For Pacific Command Theater Security Program Ahead Of Trump’s Asia Trip

Air Force F-35A Deployment Joins U.S. Marine F-35Bs to Add Capability Near Korea.

In what appears to be a continuation of U.S. preparedness in the Asian theater amidst tensions with North Korea, the U.S. Air Force has deployed the first two of twelve F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters to Kadena Air Base in the Okinawa prefecture of Japan.

The F-35As deployed to Kadena are from the 34th Fighter Squadron, the “Rude Rams” of the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah. The twelve F-35As will be supported by 300 Airmen from Hill AFB also deployed to Kadena. They are currently scheduled to remain in the region for six months according to the USAF.

USAF General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander, said in an official statement that, “The F-35A gives the joint warfighter unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats while complementing our air superiority fleet.” Gen. O’Shaughnessy went on to say, “The airframe is ideally suited to meet our command’s obligations, and we look forward to integrating it into our training and operations.”

An F-35 Lightning II, from Hill Air Force Base Utah, prepares for take-off at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Oct. 13, 2017. The aircraft was on its way to the 2017 Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition in South Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman)

The move of a significant number of combat-ready F-35As to Kadena, the largest and busiest U.S. air base in the far east, follows the August 9 deployment of three B-2 Spirit strategic bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing in Missouri to Anderson AFB in Guam (even though it must be noticed B-2s can perform round-trip missions from their homebase in CONUS as proved recently). This build-up of the most advanced U.S. air combat assets is significant. It reinforces the ongoing military pressure being applied in the region largely as a result of escalating weapons testing by North Korea.

The U.S. has also positioned the Ohio-class nuclear submarine, the USS Michigan (SSGN-727) for operations from Busan Naval base in Yongho-dong, South Korea beginning on October 13, 2017. The arrival of this submarine is significant since it is currently configured to deploy U.S. Navy SEAL special operations teams using miniature submarines from special well-decks mounted on top of its hull.

The USS Michigan (SSGN-727) with well decks mounted on top of its hull to support the deployment of SEAL delivery vehicles. (Photo:Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA)

Navy SEAL special operations teams are trained to provide a number of roles in support of any potential air campaign in the region, including reconnaissance, target designation and search and rescue of downed air crews in denied areas.

The beginning of the naval exercises with the USS Michigan and other ships in the region took place between Oct. 16 – 26. An official U.S. Navy statement saying the operations would promote “Communications, interoperability and partnership” reinforces speculation that the submarine may be preparing to support larger potential combined air operations with the U.S. Navy, Marines and the Air Force.

Earlier this year we spoke with an F-35A pilot from Hill AFB after his unit made Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in August of 2016 and then deployed to Lakenheath, England, Bulgaria and Estonia in 2017. Since then the tempo of operations for the Hill AFB F-35As has been especially busy.

The U.S. Marines have already operated their F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the joint strike fighter from Okinawa, Japan when they deployed two aircraft from Marine Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) of Marine Aircraft Group 12 at Iwakuni, Japan to Kadena back on June 26, 2017. The Marine Corps mission was to familiarize the F-35B operations team with the airfield at Okinawa. VMFA-121, an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, on Jan. 9, 2017.

The deployment of 5th Gen. aircraft to Japan comes as President Trump prepares for his first official visit to Asia (and Japan), amid growing nuclear tensions with North Korea.

Here Are Some Interesting Details About The Way U.S. B-2 Bombers Trained Over The U.S. To Strike North Korea

Some unusual activity took place in the skies over Missouri a couple of weeks ago. Including B-2s referring to air strikes on DPKR target on the radio. Just routine stuff or a message to Pyongyang?

What appears to be a medium size exercise, involving several different assets, took place over CONUS (Continental U.S.) in the night on Oct. 19 and Oct. 18, 2017.

Tons of military traffic, including B-2s and B-52s bombers, E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft supported by KC-10 and KC-135 tankers were involved in a series of simulated air strikes on little airports all over Missouri. Radio comms over unencrypted UHF frequencies as well as the use of Mode-S and ADS-B transponders allowed milair airband listeners in the area to monitor the operations and to catch some interesting details. Besides the rather unusual amount of traffic (at least according to people who have been monitoring military air traffic through radio scanner for the last 15 years), what is really interesting is the fact that, during one night, one of the aircraft radioed a message about a “possible DPRK leadership relocation site” whose coordinates pointed to a hangar located at the Jefferson City airport.

This is what one of our readers wrote to us:

On the evening of Oct. 17, my wife and I where sitting outside by a fire enjoying the evening.

Around 8pm we saw three B-2s and what appeared to be a KC-135 fly over on a heading of roughly 080 and an altitude of 25,000 or below. It was after dark but at that altitude B-2s are easily identifiable if they have navigation lights and strobes on from directly underneath. We get quite a few military aircraft in eastern Kansas and this was nothing unusual.

I have been monitoring military air-air communications as a side hobby for a number of years so B-2s as well so the overflight prompted me to run and grab a handheld scanner. Shortly after turning on the scanner I heard the B-2s working Kansas City center using “BATT” [a previous version of this article referred to the c/s as “Bat”, however, Spirit pilots pointed out the right c/s is “Batt”] callsigns (most of the time they tend to use REAPER or DEATH).

After about 30min had passed, I picked up the B-2s and other aircraft on another frequency where they where using military brevity. It was clear they where simulating some kind of battle. They where talking to another callsign MOJO getting tasking to drop GBUs on different targets. They read some target Lat/Lon over the radio: quickly plugging one into Google Maps I found they where dropping bombs on a hanger at Jefferson City, MO, airport going as far as discussing the fusing time for best effect on target.

The next evening I was ready if the exercise continued with more receivers in place and proper recording software. About the same time (roughly 8pm) they started up dropping bombs on targets with tasking from MOJO and WOLVERINE. One of the targets, consisting of several Lat/Lon sets, was the runway and hangers at Osage Beach, MO airport. At one point they called friendlies in contact and proceeded with a danger close 150m airdrop at the same hangar at Jefferson City airport as the night before.

This is the first time I have heard a exercise of this magnitude over this area.

The first night they tried to use HAVE QUICK frequency hopping and I heard several timing pulses but they couldn’t seem to get all of the members of the net setup properly (that could have been planed to practice contingency plans). They also didn’t employ any encryption that I could hear so the whole exercise was broadcast for the world to hear in plain old analog UHF AM. The most interesting part was when they radioed “a command post possible DPRK leadership relocation site” but when this was said I had not started recording it yet.

My opinion is that the Missouri Ozarks look a lot like North Korea, but we have no way of telling if something is planend or they are just preparing in case things go south.

The amount of money spent and the number of national assets involved sets this far above anything I have heard around here.”

Here below you can hear what this reader has recorded during the above drills. It’s just a 5-min audio file cut from a longer +30min version. However it gives pretty much an idea of what was happening on Oct. 18.

Was the exercise aimed at simulating a raid on a North Korean “VIP”?

Most probably yes. This is something that is being planned for months. Night missions of three-ship B-2 flights (using the very same callsign “Batt”) are standard practice as our recent story of three Spirit stealth bombers refueling over southwest Missouri few days before the above exercise was monitored proves.

What is weird is the fact that radio comms included a clear reference to a DPKR target. Indeed, it’s no secret that thousand radiohams, aviation geeks, aircraft spotters etc. use radio transmission to track military air traffic. For this reason, real ops are always conducted with a strict radio discipline, so that no detail is leaked to the “enemy” (or anyone who should not have the right to listen) and encrypted radio frequencies or frequency hopping techniques are used. However, the whole exercise was carried out on very well known unencrypted frequencies. This could have happened because of a mistake (usually names of enemy nations are never specified during radio comms) or on purpose, to let the word spread that the B-2 are preparing to attack North Korean targets. A sort of subliminal message such as the one sent with a video that showed, for the very first time, a Spirit bomber drop a 30,000-pound MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) “Bunker Buster” bomb or one of the various show of force missions flown from the U.S. (or Guam) to the Korean peninsula.

Dealing with Mode-S transponders, these made some of the aircraft involved in the ops, visibile on flight tracking websites. However, this is far from being unusual: despite the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders many aircraft, including RC-135s, Global Hawks and other strategic ISR platforms operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them.

Okie 33 was a KC-135 supporting the B-2s during their simulated air strikes.

An E-3 Sentry also supported the Spirit bombers during their simulated air strikes.


Top image: Todd Miller

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