Tag Archives: ICBM

The Sum of All Fears: Why the Hawaii False Alarm Reminds Us of The Risks Of Accidental Engagement

As North Korean Tensions Moderate Ahead of Olympics, A New Threat Emerges: Accidental Engagement.

“I started running for shelter” one man told U.S. network CNN about his response to the false nuclear threat warning text sent to Hawaii residents on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. The automated alert system was accidentally actuated by a routine drill at shift change that went wrong. During the alert, that included the message “This is not a drill”, hotel guests were evacuated into basement shelters, some people abandoned vehicles on the road and videos were posted of a man trying to open a manhole cover to seek shelter. According to a report in GlobalSecurity.org, U.S. Homeland Security Chief Kirstjen Nielsen made a statement the next day that it was “unfortunate” there was a false emergency alarm about an incoming missile in Hawaii, but said authorities are “all working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

It took 38 minutes for Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency to issue a statement saying the alert was an error. But even when the alert error message was delivered, tensions remained high on the island state. The Hawaiian island of Oahu was the scene of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the beginning of U.S. involvement in WWII on Dec. 7, 1941, and while few current residents of the island who survived that attack 77 years ago are still alive, the legacy of the Pearl Harbor attack permanently looms in the background of escalating tensions in the Pacific region with North Korea today.

The incident comes as relations between the South Korea and North Korea show possible signs of moderation ahead of the winter Olympics that begin on Feb. 9, 2018 in PyeongChang County, South Korea. North Korean and U.S. tensions remain high, but have not worsened in recent weeks. Some observers maintain that any evolution other than a worsening of relations between the U.S. and North Korea suggests improvement as Washington and Pyongyang continue their sabre rattling war of words.

But the risk of accidental engagement between the U.S and North Korea remains high, and these risks are titanic.

While the incident in Hawaii was a local level erroneous alert only, it typifies exposure to accidents that are inherent in any system where human involvement could introduce error. In the current political and strategic environment, the risk of accidental engagement represents the most tangible threat to any possible peace process in the region. Japan, North Korea, the U.S. and South Korea remain on a tenuous brink in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. This stand-off could easily escalate to a significant armed exchange entirely by error.

As with many strategic and defense realities, the late fiction author Tom Clancy was prescient of this risk. Clancy wrote this passage about a heated meeting between fictional characters, National Security Advisor Dr. Jeffrey Pelt and Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Andrei Lysenko, in “The Hunt for Red October”:

“It would be well for your government to consider that having your ships and ours, your aircraft and ours, in such proximity… Is inherently DANGEROUS. Wars have begun that way, Mr. Ambassador.”

The risk of accidental near-nuclear attack has been consistent in fiction, but rare in reality. But it has happened.

On Sept. 26, 1983, an accidental alert in the Soviet Union indicated that the U.S. had launched a missile at the USSR. Then it got worse. The system reported a follow-on salvo of five U.S. ICBMs inbound toward the Soviet Union. To Soviet crews manning the early warning systems in the Oko satellite based Nuclear Attack Warning Center it seemed like a text-book U.S. first strike. U.S. rhetoric at the time spoke of “maintaining our first strike capability”, making the warning all the more urgent. The incident came only three weeks after the Soviets accidentally shot down a civilian Boeing 747 airliner, Korean Airlines flight 007, killing everyone on board. The aircraft had strayed into prohibited Soviet airspace and was mistaken for a U.S. spy plane. Real-life Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was on duty at the time, monitoring the incoming intelligence. Based on his analysis of the data Lt. Col. Petrov judged the alarms to be an error. He later said they did not exactly match the U.S. nuclear attack doctrine, so he did not elevate the alert. Lt. Col. Petrov’s human intervention was the first circuit breaker between accident and global calamity. He received neither reprimand nor award. Petrov died anonymously in May, 2017.

As with both real and fictional accidental engagements or near-engagements the common circumstances are large numbers of military assets from adversary nations in close proximity to one another combined with a protracted phase of elevated alert status. The stress of long periods at high alert levels combined with complex procedures for differentiating friend or foe are often set against a backdrop of dynamic rules of engagement. Accidents happen.

In November 2017, the U.S. Navy released reports on two serious accidents where Navy ships collided with other vessels in close proximity. On June 17, 2017 the Arleigh-Burke class destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) was struck by the commercial container ship ACX Crystal in the narrow commercial shipping approach to Tokyo Bay. Seven members of the Fitzgerald’s crew died in the accident and her commanding officer was injured. In another incident only two months later the Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, the USS John McCain (DDG-56), was hit by the Liberian flag vessel Alnic MC in the crowded shipping approaches to the Singapore Strait. Ten crewmembers of the USS John McCain died in the accident.

Collisions with U.S. Navy vessels at sea could spark an accidental engagement. (Photo: US Navy)

Even more foreboding is the July 3, 1988 incident in the Persian Gulf when the U.S. Navy Ticonderoga Class guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes (CG-49) accidentally shot down civilian passenger flight Iran Air flight 655, an Airbus A300-B2 airliner. All passengers and crew on board were killed. The crew of the USS Vincennes had incorrectly determined that the civilian airliner was an Iranian F-14 Tomcat that was attacking them. An investigation revealed the crew of the USS Vincennes attempted to contact Iran Air Flight 655 ten times before engaging it with two SM-2MR surface-to-air missiles, one of which hit the airliner and destroyed it. Some reports suggested the incident stemmed from psychological pressure the crew was under as a result of high alert status caused by other incidents in the region (one year before this incident, in May 1987, the guided missile frigate USS Stark had been attacked by an Iraqi Mirage F-1 jet and 37 American sailors had perished during the clash).

It is a short leap to imagine an incident that would be much more serious than this last year’s accidental collisions with merchant vessels or the recent erroneous warning messages being sent. There are currently three U.S. Navy carrier battle groups in the region. The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) are all operational in the area around North Korea. Each vessel also has a significant support armada. Japanese and South Korean military vessels are also active in the region making for a very crowded patrol space.

The key to avoiding accidental engagements on each side will be adherence to rules of engagement and constant vigilance with navigation and communication. These are all standard protocols for all parties involved but fatigue and fear can degrade procedure in the real world. But perhaps the last circuit breaker between a tense stand-off and a rapidly escalating armed exchange are the responsible individuals with cool heads and an understanding of the true terror of war, accidental or not. We rely on them to maintain this tenuous peace.

DPRK Situation Report: North Korea Prepares New HS-15 Orbital Launch, Tests Anthrax Weapon on ICBM Amid Officer Disappearances.

Western Media Has Been Quiet About North Korea This Week, But North Korea Has Not Been Quiet And Prepares New Tests.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, populated headlines in the west and especially the United States for several weeks until recent, sensational domestic events replaced concerns over Pyongyang’s weapons programs and rhetorical threats. But the news from North Korea has become no less significant even though western media has momentarily shifted its attention away from the DPRK.

Orbital Launch of HS-15 ICBM Over Japan Possible.

The most recent intelligence gleaned from open sources suggests the DPRK may be preparing to launch its new HS-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) two-stage missile to put a satellite into orbit soon. The Hwasong-15, or “HS-15”, was first confirmed flight-worthy on Nov. 29, 2017. During that test launch the missile flew a high trajectory flight profile reaching 4,475 kilometers in altitude and landing in the ocean 950 kilometers from its launch site off the Korean coast between Japan and Korea. This new suggestion of an orbital attempt is significant since, if an object were boosted into orbit atop an HS-15, it would overfly Japan and likely parts of the U.S. during its orbit. The potential payload for a possible orbital launch has not been revealed by North Korea or U.S. intelligence sources.

Hwasong-15 on its mobile launch platform prior to November test launch. (Photo: 38North)

Anthrax on ICBM could reach U.S.

A media report released Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 revealed that North Korea was conducting testing on a biological weaponized anthrax warhead for its long-range ICBM program. The report follows the first successful test launch of North Korea’s new longest range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-15 on Nov. 29, 2017.

This development is significant since some western analysts diminished the significance of the successful Hwasong-15 long-range ICBM launch test by suggesting the missile could not carry a large enough warhead to significantly threaten the U.S. Analysts said that North Korea could not develop miniature nuclear warheads for Hwasong-15. If those analysts are correct the diminished threat of nuclear attack by long range ICBMs may now shift to include biological attack by ICBM.

The news of the tests was published in the Japanese Asahi newspaper and attributed to a secret South Korean intelligence source. “North Korea has started experiments such as heat and pressure equipment to prevent anthrax from dying even at a high temperature of over 7,000 degrees generated at the time of ICBM’s re-entry into the atmosphere,” the report said. “In part, there is unconfirmed information that it has already succeeded in such experiments.”

Last week, the White House echoed the Japanese reports when it released its U.S. National Security Strategy saying that North Korea is “pursuing chemical and biological weapons which could also be delivered by missile.”

Japanese media reports voice continued concern over North Korean weapons proliferation, most recently, this report about biological weapons on ICBMs. (Photo: AsahiNews)

North Korean Leadership Disappearances.

An examination of North Korean events suggests that the disappearance of top officials often pre-dates significant events in the country. Two top generals have disappeared in North Korea recently.

A high-ranking North Korean official named Park In Young was purged and executed following delays and now reported problems with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Young was reported to be director of North Korea’s Bureau 131, the part of the Central Committee that oversees the nuclear test facility and Punggye-ri, North Korea. Mr. Young also oversaw operations at the Sohae Satellite Lauching Station according to reports that originated from a recent North Korean defector.

Some reports suggest multiple catastrophic problems at North Korea’s nuclear test facilities, including landslides and earthquakes resulting from underground nuclear tests. One report cited “200 dead” in a landslide following an underground test.

A week before the reported disappearance of Park In Young another high-ranking North Korean military official, General Hwang Pyong-so, also disappeared. General Hwang Pyong-so was the Vice-Marshall of the Korean People’s Army. He also held a political post as Vice-Chairman of the State Affairs Commission.

Few news reports, official or otherwise, have reported on the specific locations or activities of the two high-ranking officials since their disappearances. A Dec. 17 report in Newsweek magazine said that Mr. Park In Young, the former nuclear boss, had been “executed”. Possibilities range from official sanction and banishment from government office to even punishment as severe as prison or execution.

Failures in nuclear testing may have led to the sanctioning and even execution of top North Korean officials according to media reports. (Photo: 38 North)

Submarine Launched Missile Test Advances.

Satellite imagery from commercial intelligence gathering satellites has shown consistent activity at the Nampo Navy Shipyard in North Korea. Photos taken from orbit on Nov. 11, 16 and 24 and reported on the website 38 North show a second submersible ballistic missile test stand. The underwater stands are used to test submarine launched ballistic missiles.

Specifically, the two submerged barges are reported to support the testing and development of the Pukguksong-1 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) as well as the new SINPO-Class ballistic missile submarine.

Accidental Engagement: The Greatest Threat.

Despite threatening rhetoric from both North Korea and the U.S. many analysts still suggest the most likely solution to the North Korean problem will be diplomatic. Considering the cost of life and the potential damage to the global economy most reasoning suggests neither the U.S. or North Korea has much to gain from initiating military aggressions.

Even with sensational saber-rattling both countries likely understand the cost of an armed conflict and the lack of strategic benefit from a war. However, with the U.S. and Japan both maintaining a high state of readiness and bolstering forces in the region and North Korea expands its test and development activity the chances of an accidental engagement at sea or in the air likely pose the greatest threat to further destabilizing the region and touching off a larger conflict. If forces in the region can maintain their readiness while avoiding an unintentional engagement the diplomatic solution may continue to develop against this volatile background.

North Korea continues weapons development and testing despite risks of accidental conflict and diplomatic instability in the region. (Photo: 38 North)

Top image: The new long-range Hwasong-15 during its first November 29 launch test. (Photo: 38North)

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)

 

55 Year Ago The Last U.S. Above-Ground Nuclear Test To Determine The Viability Of An Anti-ICBM Defense System

The Last U.S. Above Ground Nuclear Test Was Oddly Predictive of Current Missile Defense Programs.

July, 1968. Sunday Morning. 100,000 Feet Over the Midwestern United States.

This is a last, desperate attempt at survival.

It is codenamed “Satan”, and it is headed for Nebraska. Plummeting down over the continental United States the Soviet ICBM, designated R-36M, is a nightmare weapon. The world’s heaviest nuclear armed, multiple warhead doomsday weapon, “Satan” carries a planet-smashing fusillade of 10 nukes, each in the massive 500-kiloton range.

This morning Satan begins the unthinkable; an all-out nuclear slugfest between the Soviet Union and the United States. This one Soviet ICBM will destroy the Strategic Air Command headquarters at Offutt AFB, cripple a U.S. nuclear response and deliver the opening gut-punch of World War III.

There is only one hope now.

A MIM-14 Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile leaps vertically on a roiling cushion of smoke from a launch facility in the Midwestern U.S. The spear-shaped white missile shatters the sound barrier as it vaults upward piercing puffy early morning cumulus in a blue sky accelerating toward near-space. The crack of a sonic boom reaches the ground far below, its smoke trail drifting sideways on light breeze while the missile races upward toward its target.

As the Soviet Satan ICBM arcs downward in its plummet toward Armageddon the Nike Hercules makes last millisecond Hail-Mary corrections to kill it in the outer atmosphere. It doesn’t need to be very accurate. This Nike Hercules, the first, and last, line of defense against a nuclear attack from Russia, is carrying its own W31/M97 20-kiloton nuclear warhead.

The two missiles miss each other by a half-mile, but it’s close enough. A second, new sun in the northern hemisphere casts pivoting morning shadows across Nebraska cornfields as it blooms a blinding white detonation where the real sun will be hours from now at about high noon.

The Russian Satan is incinerated in the blinding nuclear flash of the Nike Hercules 20 miles above the ground. As the “red phone” between the White House and the Kremlin begins to buzz, WWIII is averted. Barely.

It never happened, thankfully. But the last atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States took place 55-years ago, on November 4, 1962.

A rare photo of one of the nuclear warheads tested on the Nike Hawk missile. (Photo: US Army)

The last detonation of a nuclear weapon in our atmosphere by the U.S. took place 860-miles southwest of Hawaii above a remote, Pacific Atoll called Johnston Island. This final American above-ground nuclear test was an experiment to determine the viability of an anti-ballistic missile defense system, a project that rings oddly relevant today amid the North Korean crisis and looming threat of Kim Jong-un.
In contrast to current, precision anti-ballistic missile defense systems that use kinetic energy and direct impact combined with ultra-accurate high speed guidance systems to intercept approaching ICBMs before they reach their targets in the U.S., the tests above the Pacific 55 years ago were like using a sledgehammer. A nuclear sledgehammer.

The final U.S. warhead detonated in the atmosphere was riding on top of a Nike Hercules missile. The last launch and detonation test on November 4, 1962 was codenamed “Tightrope”. It was just one of a series of tests that were collectively codenamed “Operation Fishbowl”.

The top-secret project created a remarkable film record of high altitude nuclear detonations. It began somewhat inauspiciously in June of 1962 with a failed test, then finally yielded results with the first successful detonation in the series in July. The project continued until November 4 of that year.

The first successful test in the series was launched on a Thor missile. It created significant electromagnetic pulse syndrome (EMP) and actually knocked out electronics including streetlights and telephones over 900 miles away in Hawaii. It also damaged some satellites in orbit near the detonation.

As the lethal game of nuclear brinkmanship between the U.S. and Russia reached its nearly tragic zenith, U.S. President John F. Kennedy signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty the following year on August 5, 1963. The agreement created a new set of international regulations that effectively halted the large-scale detonation of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere.

The high-altitude nuclear tests above the Pacific may have signaled the end to one nuclear era, but their attempt to field an effective anti-ICBM defense system rings remarkably relevant today, 55 years later.

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We Ran a Simulated ICBM Attack on the United States to Find Out: Could We Stop One?

We Went Inside Northrop Grumman Demonstration of Critical Anti-Ballistic Missile Technology.

Sometime in the future, diplomacy may fail.

An overnight incident in the Pacific between a U.S. Navy vessel and an adversary nation submarine causes a collision. A U.S. Air Force surveillance plane is fired upon as it flies near an international airspace boundary. A rogue nation continues ballistic missile testing.

What happens when it becomes a real world crisis with an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile)?

A missile launch indication from U.S. Air Force Space Command surveillance satellites happens at 0234 Hrs local. It is 1734 GMT, 10:34 AM in San Francisco, California in the United States. Sunday morning.

Silent lighted icons flash red on a U.S. early warning display. Red circles appear around them. They are automatically given a series of numerical designations: speed, altitude. Sea based radars add to the intelligence picture. More data becomes available. Algorithms extrapolate trajectory, acceleration, apogee, reentry and deceleration into the atmosphere. They calculate the missile’s potential impact point.

Missile launch (credit: Northrop Grumman)

I sit in a chair watching the arc of the incoming ICBM headed to the United States’ west coast. The missile reaches its apogee, its maximum altitude in near space, and begins its terminal attack phase. It happens fast. I realize I am sweating. This feels very real. As real as today’s headlines. As the missile descends toward its target it begins to slow, but it is still moving faster than a rifle bullet.

The United States homeland is under attack by ICBMs launched from a rogue nation. It is the first time a nation state has attacked the U.S. homeland since WWII. A shooting war has started.

Intelligence analysts know the threat of real damage is moderate, but that doesn’t help. The warhead is likely small, crude by modern standards. It may not even function. The guidance system is not very precise. Chances are just as good that this warhead will land short in the Pacific or go long into the California mountains as it will detonate over the intersection of Market Street and 6th Street in the Financial District of San Francisco. It could spread radioactive material over several city blocks depending on the altitude it detonates at. It may even fail to detonate.

But that is not the point of this attack. The point is for a rogue nation to send a clear signal to the U.S. government: We can reach you. We have the will to attack. You are not safe.

Given recent headlines the ballistic missile threat to the United States is in the spotlight. What is the U.S. doing to counter the intercontinental ballistic missile threat?

Recently The Aviationist visited a secure facility at Northrop Grumman to learn more about the present and future of ballistic missile defense for the continental United States. We participated in a chilling drill to intercept an ICBM fired from somewhere on the Asian continent (Editor’s note: at the request of Northrop Grumman officials, we agreed not to name any potential adversary nation specifically).

Inside Northrop Grumman’s facility. (credit: The Aviationist.)

Northrop Grumman’s Ken Todorov, Director of Global Air and Missile Defense, told TheAviationist.com, “This literally is rocket science.”

Todorov directed us through a simulated ICBM intercept over the northern Pacific using Northrop Grumman’s technology contributions to our nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense Systems. Several new technologies are showcased within Northrop Grumman’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. These systems are not yet operational, but they are must-haves for the nation’s ICBM defense. Given the threat from rogue nations in the Pacific region, Northrop Grumman’s new technologies are not just critical, but essential to our nation’s defense in the immediate term.

Without systems like GMD our west coast is, for the first time in history, under threat of nuclear attack from an ICBM in control of a rogue nation.

A constant stream of data from a wide array of sensors tracks the incoming ICBM. We see the track on our large monitor, nearly the width of the room, and on our individual monitors. It’s eerily quiet.

View to a kill: We run a simulation of an ICBM attack on the U.S. west Coast. (credit: TheAviationist.)

“Ground Based Interceptor launch, Ft. Greely, Alaska.” The systems operator tells us. The track of an ascending missile appears on our screen. It arcs upward gaining momentum, curving to match the downward trajectory of the incoming ICBM.

“Ground Based Interceptor launch, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.” A second lighted trajectory traces across the screen, originating from the continental U.S. west coast. Two U.S. missiles are in the air, with new proposed Northrop Grumman technology melding the intercept data and targeting information to help provide mid-course intercept data.

The lines converge silently toward one another, beginning to form a brightly lighted “Y” shape on the displays. We all follow the lighted display across the screen, the ICBM arcing downward, the interceptors arcing to meet them.

“This is a bullet hitting a bullet in the exo-atmosphere” Todorov tells us, gesturing to the three missile tracks as they converge together on the big screen. The projectile we are trying to hit is moving at 10,000 MPH now, and it is about the size of a trashcan.

There are four phases of ICBM flight.

The boost phase is the most difficult to intercept the vehicle in, but is where the launch is detected. The ascent phase is vulnerable to detection by the Aegis weapons system and interception by RIM-156 and RIM-174 Standard Missiles launched from land or at sea from U.S. Navy surface ships like the Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh-Burke class destroyers. In the third phase, the “mid-course” phase, the incoming ICBM could be targeted by the exo-atmospheric THAAD missile system or additional systems still in development.

Northrop Grumman technology has the capability to make all these systems perform better together, and improve the likelihood of intercepting missiles before they reach the United States or any user nation.

The lines on the big display in front of us converge.

They complete the big “Y” shape over the eastern Pacific off the California coast. There is no sound. In an instant all three missile designators disappear. The intercept was successful.

Missile tracking system close-up during ICBM launch simulation (credit: The Aviationist)

Using several new key technologies from Northrop Grumman we killed the incoming ICBM over the pacific before it reached the United States.

Later we see video of a successful, actual test intercept of an ICBM target during a demonstration of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the ballistic missile defense system on May 30, 2017. A ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The “anti-missile” missile was armed with an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle projectile. It successfully intercepted and destroyed a simulated ICBM launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific with a direct collision at re-entry speed and high altitude. The demonstration was widely regarded as impressive proof of the capabilities of the ballistic missile defense system.

Northrop Grumman’s contribution to missile defense is significant. At the beginning of 2017 Ken Todorov told media that, “Members of Congress face a myriad of difficult questions about how to best protect our homeland from a growing number of threats. In this era of declining budgets, it is critical our top national priorities provide those at the “tip of the spear” with the tools to protect our homeland from existing and emerging threats.”

The headlines confirm the ICBM threat from the Pacific region is real, making the need for missile defense perhaps the most urgent defense agenda for the United States.

Note: The Aviationist.com wishes to thank Lauren A. Green, Manager, Branding and External Communications for Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and the entire team at Northrop Grumman for their kind assistance with this article.

Salva