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Gulp: North Korea now has an ICBM that may be able to hit . . . Washington D.C.?
By way of outer space.
Forget Seattle. Forget San Francisco. Forget Denver. The west may be safe by virtue of its own relative lack of importance. If the Norks really have a missile that can hit Washington D.C., we're way past the point of guessing as to the limits of their capabilities. It's now just a question of whether we do something definitive to stop them before they decide to go ahead and strike.
But can they? Er, possibly, although the need to carry a nuclear warhead complicates the matter because it adds weight to the flight. But based on the successful trajectory of a launch from about a week ago, the Norks and a lot of other people seem to think they can do it by leaving the Earth's atmosphere and returning at just the right point:
The missile was fired just before 3 a.m. Wednesday local time from a site about 20 miles north of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, according to U.S., Japanese and South Korean authorities. It flew for almost an hour, covering about 620 miles, before splashing down in the waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from its coast.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said while it landed relatively close to its launch site, the “long-range” missile was fired on a very steep trajectory, reaching an altitude of about 2,800 miles—roughly 11 times as high as the international space station.
Under Mr. Kim, North Korea has increasingly turned to such so-called lofted-trajectory launches in recent months to test its missiles at extended ranges without having them fly a long horizontal distance.
The missile “went higher, frankly, than any previous shots,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said. “The bottom line is it’s a continued effort to build a…ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.”
Wednesday’s test demonstrated a trajectory that could put Washington within range of North Korean missiles, said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif.
“If the numbers hold, this test will demonstrate a much further range than ever tested before,” Ms. Hanham said.
To get a sense of perspective on that 2,800-mile altitude, You're basically leaving the Earth's atmosphere and entering outer space at about 64 miles. The International Space Station is a little over 200 miles above the surface of the Earth. So we're talking about a very high lob of a missile, and the launch trajectory is crucial because the only way the Norks can hope to reach a target as far away as Washington is to lauch it that high, and with that much force, in order to stick the landing at such a distant spot.
The actual test flight didn't fly anywhere near that far. It only went about 600 miles. But it wasn't distance they were testing. It was launch trajectory, and apparently they achieved a high enough and forceful enough launch that it demonstrated at least in theory that they could do it for real.
Now, what happens when you add the weight of a nuclear warhead is no small matter. Additional weight is going to affect the force of the launch significantly, and no one knows if the Norks can compensate for the extra weight with enough force to achieve the same speed or launch angle to achieved on the test.
But the fact that we're even discussing this is quite alarming. Just a few years ago we were laughing at North Korea as they conducted a series of failed tests that saw missiles tumble into the sea well short of the goal, or never get off the launch pad. Bowl Cut Jr. may be a lunatic, but he either has very good nuclear scientists or he's getting some very effective help from somewhere (cough Iran cough).
People don't like to hear this, but the only way to solve this problem is to take the guy out and end his regime before he has a chance to launch for real. The Chinese won't like it and the Russians will kick and scream. The South Korean's understandably don't want to risk the likely retaliatory strikes. I get it. But none of that is as bad as what happens if he does what he's threatening to do, and apparently has the capacity to do.
American presidents of both parties dragged their feet for way too long without dealing with this problem, and now people are acting like Donald Trump is crazy because he seems resolved to take care of it once and for all. If he does, he'll be the only sane president we've had on this question.
Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!