Apr 12, 2013
The world is presently focused on the threat of a nuclear war being unleashed in the Asia Pacific Region (APR) by North Korea. In the last two decades, an impoverished North Korea has threatened war but has been careful only to target South Korea with artillery bombardment, special forces’ attacks or by attacking a South Korean warship like it did a couple of years ago (a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean warship, CheonAne, in the Yellow Sea). Each time the aim has been to get attention or some additional aid from the international community in the form of energy and food supplies. North Korea has prepared two mobile medium-range ballistic missiles (capable of reaching the islands of Japan and Guam) for test firing on its east coast and may conduct its fourth nuclear test. In addition, it has begun reactivating a civil nuclear reactor, which had been shut down in 2008 as part of an earlier agreement involving food and energy aid.
North Korea has a massive military machine comprising one million men, with another seven million men in reserve and 1,350 ballistic missiles. It also has a very large special forces team which can be deployed for covert operations against bordering South Korea. While North Korean military equipment is of 1970s vintage, the South Koreans have a modern military with 500,000 men, a few 1,000-km range cruise missiles which can target all of North Korea with conventional warheads, and Patriot Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMDS) which can destroy the incoming ballistic missiles in the terminal phase, at ranges up to about 30 kms. Japan — located a few hundred miles away — too has very modern military forces and the Patriot BMDS. In addition, the Americans have 22,000 military personnel in South Korea and military units in Japan.
The US military has a multi-layered BMDS. If and when a North Korean ballistic missile or missiles is/are launched, a satellite picks up its heat (infra red) signature and instantly conveys the information to all American, South Korean and Japanese forces. US Navy Aegis warships operating at sea, off the North Korean coasts, will then track the missiles and destroy them with the 200-mile-range SM-3 missile, either in the initial boost phase (when the missile rises from its launch pad), or later in the cruise phase, when the missile is travelling at high speed outside the earth’s atmosphere, en route to the target.
In case a few missiles escape destruction from the SM-3 missile and are headed for the US naval base at, say, Guam Island, then they can be intercepted by a two-layered BMDS on the island. The outer later is based on the 100-mile range THAAD missile which will intercept and destroy the incoming ballistic missile well outside the earth’s atmosphere. The second layer comprises the 30-km range Patriot BMDS, which will intercept and destroy the incoming missiles inside the earth’s atmosphere.
Needless to mention that any such large-scale missile attack on the US military or Japan or South Korea, will invite massive US retaliation by airstrikes, cruise missiles etc. and result in the early destruction of North Korea’s military capability. This in turn may result in a Chinese military intervention, which could spiral out of control and result in a nuclear war in the APR. Hence, what we are witnessing is a classic example of controlled escalation by North Korea which, being totally dependent on China for its food and energy supplies, will no doubt be restrained by China from initiating out an all out war.