Tag Archives: North Korea

U.S. Tests Minuteman Missile Amid North Korean Tension and Proposed ICBM Upgrade

Latest Pacific ICBM Test Proves U.S. Readiness in Turbulent Region as Tensions Rise.

The U.S. Air Force has conducted an operational test of its LGM-30 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The missile was unarmed, carrying a single test reentry vehicle according to the Global Strike Command.

Members of the 90th Missile Wing based at Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming conducted the test launch from California. The missile was launched yesterday morning, August 2, at 2:10 California time.

The single simulated reentry vehicle covered 4,200 miles on its way to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It landed in a missile test range used by the U.S.

In an operational attack the LGM-30 would be armed with a Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle or “MIRV”. The MIRV payload on a Minuteman III includes three separate 300-500 kiloton nuclear warheads with independent targets. The warheads separate upon reentry into earth’s atmosphere above their predetermined targets and strike over a wide area. The use of multiple reentry vehicles for large warheads makes intercepting them over a large target area nearly impossible. The missile’s NS-50 inertial navigation system is largely immune to countermeasures once launched and is accurate to within 200 meters according to the Minuteman III’s builder, Boeing.

The operational LGM-30 Minuteman III is armed with multiple reentry vehicle warheads to strike several targets simultaneously. (Graphic: Wiki)

The U.S. currently fields 450 nuclear-armed operational LGM-30 Minuteman III missiles.

Set against the backdrop of this week’s missile launch, Boeing strategic deterrence chief Frank McCall told reporters the Minuteman III is an aging legacy ICBM platform from the 1950’s. According to McCall, the Minuteman ICBM platform was only intended to “Last a decade”.

During the late 1980’s the U.S. fielded the LGM-118 Peacekeeper ICBM. The LGM-118, popularly known as the “MX missile” was intended to be a survivable solution to a Soviet nuclear first strike on the continental U.S. Controversy over weapons treaties and basing for the MX missile limited its deployment to only 50 missiles using existing Minuteman missile silos until the program was cancelled entirely in September 2005.

An operational Boeing LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM in its underground launch silo. (Photo: Boeing)

The U.S. Air Force has proposed the need for an all-new ICBM design concept to replace the aging Minuteman platform called the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent or “GBSD” missile program. Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop are each competing for the new GBSD contract.

The proposed new GBSD concept is intended to be an “open-architecture, modular” design that is highly adaptive to mission requirements and can be readily updated to maintain technical superiority and strategic relevance.

As with all major defense programs, costs for the proposed GBSD program have been criticized. Several media outlets have published estimates of $85 billion spread over a 20-year program for a force of 400 missiles.

While North Korea has made rapid and significant progress in their long-range missile program and nuclear program to include weapons research the strategic balance still tips very heavily in favor of the United States. The U.S. remains the only country to employ nuclear weapons operationally when it launched manned nuclear strikes from strategic bombers on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Since the operational nuclear strikes at the end of WWII and throughout the Cold War the U.S. has relied on a “nuclear triad” of three different strategic nuclear launch platforms that include Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and a variety of air-delivered nuclear weapons that include air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), Short Range Attack Missiles (SRAMs) and the now antiquated but still operational air-dropped nuclear bombs.

Time to strike targets in North Korea from missile bases in the U.S. Midwest and West coast may be less than 40 minutes from launch to impact, but submarine launched ballistic missiles deployed closer to the Korean peninsula would likely have weapons on target in much less time.

This most recent missile test was planned in advance of Korean tests according to the Pentagon, but it is reasonable to suggest it transmits a clear message that the U.S. nuclear deterrent is current and capable.

 

 

New U.S. Air Force F-16 With Centennial Tail Flash Unveiled In South Korea

A New Special Colored F-16 From The 36th FS Flying Fiends Was Unveiled At Osan Air Base, 50 miles south of the DMZ.

The 36th Fighting Squadron “Flying Fiends”, belonging to the 51st Fighting Wing, is one of the U.S. Air Force squadrons located closer to North Korea: based at Osan Air Base, South Korea, about 50 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea, the squadron and its F-16s are on constant alert status.

“Being a Flying Fiend means to be a part of a legacy of more than 100 years of combat aviation. We’ve been involved in every major conflict from the 20th century: from World War I to WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and about 36 years of alert readiness on the Korean peninsula,” said Capt. Wayne Mowery, 36th Fighter Squadron jet fighter pilot.

On Jul. 21, 2017, one week before North Korea tested a Hwasong-14 ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile), the 36th FS unveiled a newly refurbished F-16 Fighting Falcon during a Tail Flash ceremony at Osan AB.

The F-16 was brought back to life by members from the 51st Maintenance Squadron Corrosion Control Shop repairing and repainting its tail.

“Basically this was a clean slate, we had to sand everything down on this plane, all the old paint and [install] a new tail flash that was custom made,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman William Williams, 51st MXS sheet metal and corrosion technician in a public release.

“What we see in the tail flash is the combination of two distinctive histories. The red striped tail flash represents the history of the fabulous Flying Fiends. The tail flash specifically became famous during the Korean War as we flew with our red striped tail flash on our F-80 Shooting Stars and our F-86 Sabres,” said Mowery. “Underneath the red stripes you see the checkered tail design and that is the history of the 51st Fighter Wing, which we officially became a part of in 1974.”

The special color F-16, that flew ahead of the official Tail Flash ceremony, will probably take part in one of the next “Elephant Walk” a kind of exercise that is particularly frequent in South Korea where local-based U.S. Air Force jets (often alongside Republic of Korea Air Force planes) periodically stage such “collective shows of force” in response to North Korea’s aggressive posture and threats. Indeed, Osan is considered a key American facility in the region and among the targets of Pyongyang in case of war with the South.

The 36th Fighter Squadron Flying Fiends Centennial F-16 Fighting Falcon sits after receiving fresh paint in the corrosion shop at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, June 21, 2017. The 51st Maintenance Squadron’s Corrosion Control Team painted the jet in honor of the 36th FS’s 100 years of service to the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III)

 

Commercial Pilot Catches Remarkable Photos of Alleged Secret Chinese Anti-Missile Test

Alleged Chinese ABM Test Coincides with North Korean Ballistic Missile Test.

A commercial pilot flying a Cargolux 747 from Hong Kong to Baku has shot photos of what is believed to be a secret Chinese anti-ballistic missile test.

Flying over the Himalayas on July 22nd the flight crew saw a series of unusual lights and vapor trails climb into the night sky. Photographer, blogger and commercial pilot Christiaan van Heijst of the Netherlands shot the photos seen here. They were posted to his own blog, JPCVANHEIJST.COM

The alleged Chinese test is noteworthy because it is so close to the North Korean ballistic missile test over the Pacific confirmed by the United States today. China has not commented on the photos or verified any testing operations.

“What started unexpectedly with an unusual bright spot on the horizon quickly changed into a droplet-shaped bubble that rapidly grew in size and altitude.” First Officer Van Heijst wrote on his own personal blog published today.

Normally missile tests and space launches are well documented in international NOTAMs or “Notices To Airmen” via a number of media outlets used by commercial and military flight crews and air traffic control. It is important information since it not only avoids the extremely remote possibility that an aircraft may be hit by part of a vehicle used in a launch test

“It came as a total surprise for us and the only thing we found in the NOTAMs for our route was a ‘temporarily restricted airspace’ with a 100km radius somewhere south of Urumqi in north-west China with no mention of the nature of the closure, let alone a possible rocket/missile launch.”

One French language media outlet, EastPendulum.com, reported that the launch photographed by First Officer Van Heijst may have been a test of the Chinese Dong-Feng-21 or DF-21, an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM).

One Chinese website, “liuqiankktt.blog.163.com”, showed additional photos of the event from the ground. The images are consistent with the appearance of a launch vehicle test.

This photo of the test was shot by a Chinese blogger from the ground. (Photo: liuqiankktt.com)

Until China confirms the specifics of the launch or other intelligence outlets provide more detailed analysis it will difficult to understand exactly what happened over China and what its purpose was.

First Officer Christiaan Van Heijst went on to write on his blog:

“The entire event took no more than 12 minutes, from first spotting the bright light to the last dissipating glowing spots in the sky. My knowledge of hypersonic shock waves and the behavior of exhaust gasses in the upper atmosphere is extremely limited, but looking at the photos it seems to me that there have been two rocket stages burning after each other in succession. Taking into account that the Chinese suffered a catastrophic launch of a Long March 5 exactly 3 weeks earlier, it might be logical to assume this was a test-flight of another rocket in a relatively remote area of China with little to no witnesses. Except a Dutch pilot and a camera that they might not have counted on.”

We do know that Cargolux First Officer Christiaan Van Heijst’s photos of the event are truly remarkable and his reporting on the event is greatly appreciated.

Top image credit: Christiaan Van Heijst

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Watch A USAF C-17 Air-Launch An Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Target Over The Pacific Ocean During A THAAD Test

A C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 418th Flight Test Squadron air-launched a ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean.

On July 11, a U.S. Air Force C-17 airlifter supported a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense test at Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska.

Indeed, the C-17 air-launched an IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) target north of Hawaii that was detected, tracked and intercepted by the TGAAD weapons system.

According to an Air Force release, the test, designated Flight Test THAAD (FTT)-18, was executed by MDA, supported by elements of the U.S. Army, Joint Forces Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska, Ballistic Missile Defense Operational Test Agency, DoD Operational Test and Evaluation, and the Army Test and Evaluation Command.

This was the 14th successful intercept in 14 attempts for the THAAD weapon system. According to MDA, “the THAAD element provides a globally-transportable, rapidly-deployable capability to intercept ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight. The MDA says THAAD is strictly a defense system. The system uses hit-to-kill technology whereby kinetic energy destroys the incoming target. The high-altitude intercept mitigates effects of enemy weapons before they reach the ground.”

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, during Flight Test THAAD (FTT)-18 July 11, 2017. During the test, the THAAD weapon system successfully intercepted an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile target. (Missile Defense Agency photo)

The 418th Flight Test Squadron has supported these MDA tests over the years.

“The 418th is the only organization on Earth capable of airdropping MDA’s largest and most capable ballistic test missiles providing a vital examination of U.S. strategic defense assets,” said Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, 418th FLTS commander. Soldiers from the Army’s 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade conducted launcher, fire control and radar operations using the same procedures they would use in an actual combat scenario. Soldiers operating the equipment were not aware of the actual target launch time.

The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat comes amidst growing concern about the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea.

Ballistic missiles have been carried by U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft during testing activities conducted in the past.

In 1974, the U.S. thought that the best way to preserve its ICBMs (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) from Soviet nuclear strikes was to load them in C-5 Galaxy airlifters and keep them on the move.

A three-stage Minuteman, 56 feet in length and 86,000 pounds in weight, was attached to some parachutes that could drag it out of the cargo hold and then point it upward, then it was loaded into a Galaxy and air launched over the Pacific from the aircraft: a timer ignited the rocket motor and the missile flew for about 25 seconds before it cascaded into the Pacific Ocean.

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Wanna Know If A New North Korean Missile Test Is About To Take Place? Look For This U.S. Aircraft Online…

You can monitor online the U.S. RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft used to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight.

Early in the morning on Jul. 4, North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time.

The ICBM, referred to as Hwasong-14, reached a height of 2,802 kilometers, according to the state-run Korea Central Television (KCTV). The missile was launched from Panghyon, in North Pyongan province, and flew into waters east of the Korean Peninsula after traveling for about 930 kilometers.

The latest missile launch, as well as the previous ones, was almost certainly monitored by the U.S. Forces deployed to the region, using a variety of aerial, ground-based, sea-going assets.

The U.S. Air Force relies on its small contingent of RC-135S Cobra Ball missile tracking aircraft. Based at Offutt Air Force Base, outside Omaha, Nebraska, and  flown by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, these intelligence gathering aircraft are often deployed where needed to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight. The aircraft is equipped with a powerful radar array on the starboard side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. Several optical quality windows are mounted on the starboard side as well, allowing infrared and visible spectrum cameras to record the warheads during their final moments of flight. A distinctive feature of the Cobra Ball is the black low-glare paint used on the starboard wing, to improve image quality and prevent glare during photography.

A Cobra Ball taking off from Kadena on May 31, 2016 (screengrab from YT video by okuchan2006)

Unsurprisingly, two Cobra Ball aircraft  (61-2662 and 61-2663) are currently deployed to Yokota Air Base, Japan, from where it is launched when there are signs of an imminent North Korean test. What is far more surprising is the fact that, in spite of their important role, RC-135S aircraft are among the military planes that can be tracked online by exploiting the signals broadcast by their Mode S/ADS-B transponders.

By observing the activities of the RC-135S in Japan you may have a pretty clear idea of what is happening or about to happen in North Korea. For instance, last night, the fact that the Cobra Ball was airborne from Yokota might suggest that the U.S. intelligence had detected activities at the launch site and was preparing to monitor the test. This is the reason why I tweeted the following (later confirmed by the news of the ICBM test):

And that was not the first time. Just a coincidence? Most probably not, considered that the Cobra Ball does not fly that much and almost all sorties tracked online in Japan coincided with North Korea’s tests.

Here are some examples:

On Apr. 15, North Korea test-fired an unidentified land-based missile from the naval base in Sinpo. An RC-135S was flying over Japan:

On May 13, North Korea test-fired an intermediate range ballistic missile, from a test site on the country’s West Coast. That launch reached a then-record altitude of around 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) and a Cobra Ball was airborne to watch and collect data:

On Jun. 20, a Cobra Ball and WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuclear sniffer” flew over Japan. It was later unveiled that the spy satellites had detected new activity at the North Korean nuclear test site.

So, if you want to know when Kim Jong Un is preparing for a new test, you may try to look for a Cobra Ball or Constant Phoenix airborne over Japan on ADSBexchange or simply follow some of the Twitter accounts who constantly track such aircraft, such as our friend @CivMilAir who provided us with most of the updates on the RC-135 and WC-135 flights in the area.