- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 5, 2006

North Korea’s launch of seven ballistic missiles, six them over four hours on the Fourth of July, gave us some useful lessons: confirmation that appeasement does not work and defenses are a good thing, and more are needed.

When North Korea’s launch preparations were seen by satellite, the whole world pleaded with Pyongyang not to break the missile flight test moratorium it had observed since 1999. Restraint would be rewarded with aid and benefits, at least from South Korea. But to no avail. North Korea went ahead with the most impressive series of peacetime missile launches ever seen.

Appeasement did not work, but neither did threats. Former Clinton era defense officials William Perry and Ashton Carter suggested a pre-emptive strike by cruise missiles to destroy the North’s long-range Taepodong missile on its launch pad. If this provocative suggestion was meant to cow North Korea, it did not. Instead, Pyongyang justified its actions by accusing the U.S. of planning to attack.

Intelligence analysts say North Korea launched three Scuds, three Nodongs, and one Taepodong-2 (TD-2) in a single day. Some were observed or tracked by satellites, radars in Japan, RC-135 electronic reconnaissance aircraft and by U.S. and Japanese Aegis destroyers. The three-stage TD-2 exploded after 42 seconds and fell into the sea. It appeared heading across northern Japan to splash down in the Pacific somewhere between Japan and the Hawaiian Islands.

In its 1998 Taepodong-1 launch, North Korea showed it had solved the formidable engineering challenge of building a multistage missile. This time, it did not work. But the six shorter-range missiles did. Four landed in the same area of the Sea of Japan, suggesting improved accuracy. The sixth and seventh appear to be new extended-range Scud-ERs with up to double the range of the 300-mile Scud-C.

North Korea already operates the 800-mile Nodong, which can reach most of Japan. While a new 600-mile missile also could reach parts of Japan, its main purpose likely is to hold at risk all of South Korea, including U.S. bases, from launch-sites near the Chinese and Russian borders that would be hard to attack.

The TD-2 failure provides small comfort. North Korea’s continuing missile and nuclear weapon developments, with the help of Iran and others, endangers a large part of the Western Pacific. Japanese press reports claim 10 Iranian observers were at the North Korean launches. And a recent analysis of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program indicates it now has enough separated plutonium for from four to 13 nuclear weapons, and could have much more in just a few years.

U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan already are under the gun. Deployment of Patriot PAC-3 missile interceptors to Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa has been speeded up to begin this month. And the Aegis cruiser USS Shiloh, which carries SM-3 missile interceptors for flight tests, is on its way to Japan. Washington and Tokyo are discussing possibly accelerating shipment of both PAC-3s for deployment near Tokyo and SM-3s to be carried on Japan’s Aegis destroyers.

The Missile Defense Agency is equipping 18 U.S. Aegis cruisers and destroyers with missile-tracking radar and SM-3 interceptors, 56 to be on board by 2008. A new high-speed interceptor known as SM-3 Block 2 is being developed jointly by the U.S. and Japan, which will enable Aegis ships of both countries to intercept longer-range missiles in the ascent phase. Despite its promise, the Block 2 model is not expected to be operational until 2015.

The TD-2 launch shows the importance of defending our 50th state. It may not have the range to reach Hawaii, but North Korea and Iran are working on one that will. To defend against such missiles the U.S. will have 13 interceptors in Alaska and two in California by year’s end. Since two interceptors will be fired at each missile, that is a real threat: To increase the odds of an intercept, a total of two obviously is insufficient. Hawaii also can be defended from California, so the missile defenses there should be increased from two interceptors to at least 10 or 12.

One lesson from North Korea’s missile launches is that more and better defenses are needed in the Pacific. As it completes action on the 2007 defense budget, Congress should consider buying more SM-3 ship-based interceptors, speed development of the SM-3 Block 2, and order 10 more ground-based interceptors to be based in California.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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