Too Little, Too Late?



Despite well intentioned warnings, they are too little, and quite possibly too late . . .

USAF General John Hyten, Commander of United States Strategic Command, testified on May 9th that North Korea now has the range capability to strike the United States with ballistic missiles. "It is a matter of physics and math." DIA Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart testified on May 23rd that the only hurdle left for it to attack the U.S with nuclear weapons is finding a way for its ballistic missile to re-enter the atmosphere, which he said is "really a matter of enough trial and error to make that work . . . They understand the physics, so it's just a matter of design."

But our Secretaries of State and Defense in their recent trips to the region were focused on China's bad behavior in the South China Sea and trying to get China to help close the barn door after North Korea's "nuclear armed missile" horse is out of the barn. 

For example, Click here for a pertinent June 3, 2017 Wall Street Journal article by Gordon Lubold, Jeremy Page and Patrick Barta, "Mattis Urges China to Help Persuade North Korea to Halt Its Weapons Programs." 

Fat chance - we've slept through this play repeatedly for over two decades. Click here for Sunday's Reuters story that indicates North Korea again rejected UN sanctions to continue its nuclear programs.

My colleague, Peter Huessy, echoes these concerns re. North Korea (and hopes re. China) in a May 31, 2017 Gatestone Institute article, "Analysts Sound New Alarms on North Korea Missile Threat," discussed the rapidly gathering storm being posed by North Korea's recent testing program - of both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that could carry them to the American heartland.  Click here for this article which documents, with credible references, that:

  • After numerous ballistic missile tests so far this year, no one should be surprised by North Korea's progressively more advanced weapons capabilities;
  • In his three years in power, Kim Jung Un has launched two maybe three times as many missiles as did his father in 18 years - and he shows no sign of slowing down his press for nuclear armed missiles to threaten the United States and our allies in the region;
  • Japan and South Korea are actually under a real nuclear threat today, and given a recent "unusually high trajectory" lengthy test, they could actually reprogram that missile to reach Guam today - I would add possibly even Hawaii!;
  • These programs began in the 1980s and 90s with China's "startup" help with technology - and persistent efforts that still continue today;
  • It remains to be seen if the Trump administration can/will do anything to reverse these trends - again possibly by China's help in reigning in North Korea by deliberate economic and military pressure, without which North Korea's nuclear challenge may be insurmountable.


As emphasized repeatedly in my previous messages, there is no reason for North Korean missiles to reenter the atmosphere to cause catastrophic consequences, by simply detonating a nuclear weapon at high altitude over a target of interest-say South Korea, Guam, Hawaii or the United States.  In fact, simply detonating a nuclear weapon carried by one of North Korea's satellites as it passes over the United States would work just fine. The resulting high altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) would have catastrophic consequences for all Americans. 

A fallback position for those naysayers is that they argue North Korea hasn't yet demonstrated a high yield nuclear weapon that they allege is required to produce a major HEMP effects.  The problem with that argument is that, in fact and contrary to their claims, North Korea does not need a high yield nuclear weapon to produce catastrophic HEMP effects.

Click here for a most definitive 38 North article explaining this fact (and others), authored by the Chairman of the EMP Commission (and former Science Advisor to President Ronald Reagan), Dr. William R. Graham.  In his June 2, 2017 article, he rebutted recent naysayers who in a series of recent articles  have described the possibility of an EMP attack from North Korea as "unlikely" and "science fiction" because, in part, they believe the 10 to 20 kiloton nuclear weapons currently possessed by North Korea are incapable of making an effective EMP attack.

As Dr. Graham notes: "This dismisses the consensus view of EMP experts who have advanced degrees in physics and electrical engineering along with several decades of experience in the field - with access to classified data throughout that time - and who have conducted EMP tests on a wide variety of electronic systems, beginning in 1963." Notably:

  • He quotes from the EMP Commission's 2004 report, also briefed to a closed session of Congress, that "Certain types of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons can be employed to generate potentially catastrophic EMP effects over wide geographic areas, and designs for variants of such weapons may have been illicitly trafficked for a quarter-century."
  • Dr. Graham also observed: "In 2004, two Russian generals, both EMP experts, warned the EMP Commission that the design for Russia's super-EMP warhead, capable of generating high intensity EMP fields of 200,000 volts per meter, was ‘accidentally' transferred to North Korea and that, due to ‘brain drain,' Russian scientists were in North Korea, helping with their missile and nuclear weapon programs. South Korean military intelligence told their press that Russian scientists are in North Korea helping develop an EMP nuclear weapon. In 2013, a Chinese military commentator stated North Korea has super-EMP nuclear weapons."
  • Dr. Graham also backed up observations that satellites can be used to deliver such a HEMP attack over the South Polar regions to approach the United States from our mostly unprotected South or that such an attack could be launched from a vessel off our coasts. Both threat strategies have been well identified for many years.
  • He also corrected much misinformation that has been widely distributed, including fallacious reporting about the experience in Hawaii following the 1962 Starfish Prime test event, some 900 miles away in the South Pacific.
  • In conclusion, Dr. Graham commented on U.S. vulnerabilities to the grid with a couple of sobering concluding thoughts: (1) In the event of a nuclear EMP attack on the United States, "a widespread protracted blackout is inevitable. This common sense assessment is also supported by the nation's best computer modeling;" and (2) Even if North Korea has only primitive, low-yield nuclear weapons, and if other states or terrorists acquire one or a few such weapons as well as the capability to detonate them at an altitude of 30 kilometers or higher over the United States, "the damage level could be sufficient to be catastrophic to the Nation, and our current vulnerability invites attack," as the EMP Commission warned over a dozen years ago in its 2004 Report  


Finally, click here for a June 5, 2017 E&E News article that references my May 4, 2017 testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and reports on our Lake Wylie Pilot Study in York County, SC - which I believe is paving the way for a "bottoms up" approach to protect the electric power grid, so that local, county and state emergency managers and the nation's several thousand energy companies, electric utility companies and electric Co-operative electric companies (CoOps) can begin to protect the electric grid in their local areas.

This approach is urgently needed because the federal government (in both the executive and legislative branches) is failing miserably to protect the American people against such threats, as noted above now increasingly being posed by North Korea (and also Iran, by the way).

In conclusion, it should be noted that, try as we may, we cannot completely protect the electric grid in time to completely counter this threat - we have for too long been doing too little, and it is now too late to completely harden the grid before these threats materialize.

Thus, we should be employing fully our current ballistic missile defenses for homeland defense, not just to defend our overseas troops and allies.  Last week's welcome successful test of our Homeland Defense interceptor is also, I fear, "too little, too late" to deal effectively with the growing threat to our homeland - including the existential HEMP threat.

Thus, I believe we should fully employ our Aegis BMD ships in the vicinity of North Korea to intercept North Korean ballistic that might be headed our way - while they are still rising before they reach their highest altitude.  We tested how to do this over a decade ago, and our Aegis crews should be fully trained to carry out such a mission today - if they are not already so trained.

And I would argue that they should demonstrate that capability by shooting down a North Korean ballistic missile to prove to Kim Jong Un that we can do it.  This is not a novel idea. Click here for a Fox News article on Tax Day 2013 reporting that Senator John McCain had made this same proposal - if we had followed his recommendation then, maybe we would not be in the current predicament.

Note we now have two Aircraft Carrier Strike Groups in the neighborhood, and each carrier is accompanied by three destroyers.  (Below is a photo of the Carl Vinson Strike Group.) In addition, we and the Japanese have several Aegis BMD cruisers and destroyers in the neighborhood.  So, carrying out such a mission should not be difficult.


Aegis Ashore BMD sites also could be helpful - as our Japanese friends have recently observed. Click here for a May 13, 2017 Reuters article that summarizes why the Japanese prefer the less expensive Aegis Ashore sites to the THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense) system now being deployed in South Korea.

I agree with the Japanese, by the way.  We should also be deploying Aegis Ashore sites on military bases around the Gulf of Mexico - beginning on Tyndall AFB in Panama City, Florida - home of First Air Force with the air defense mission to protect the Continental United States, Porto Rico and the Dominican Republic. This would end our total vulnerability against ballistic missiles launched from vessels in the Gulf of Mexico.  More for another day. 

Concluding Thoughts, While Storm Clouds Gather.

We live in a very dangerous time - as I have recently repeated often, the most dangerous in my memory, and we seem to have lost our way.

As quickly as possible, we should harden the electric power grid against HEMP threat in particular - and in doing so, we should also protect against Cyber and Physical/Radio Frequency weapons, which no doubt  will be employed at least to confuse and diffuse our ability to protect the grid against HEMP threats. 

And we should build truly effective defenses against these threats as soon as possible, including the most effective ballistic missile defenses possible - and I believe that means they should be based in space. 

Let Freedom Ring!

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Ambassador Henry F. Cooper is Chairman of High Frontier and a former Acquisition Executive for all U.S. ballistic missile defenses.  He also served in several other senior USG acquisition and policy positions, including as President Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union. He is currently focused on helping local, state and federal authorities protect against the natural and manmade EMP threat by building effective ballistic missile defenses and hardening the electric grid. Otherwise, loss of the electric grid would freeze America's "just in time" economy, leaving most Americans without means for survival.


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