North Korea officially launched their three stage long-range missile yesterday at 7:39am, 6:39pm eastern daylight time in the United States.
The North Korean rocket propelled and completed its complete burnout of the first stage at 100 seconds, reaching 43 miles in altitude in the atmosphere while coasting upwards unpowered waiting for the second stage to ignite. The second stage appeared not to ignite and the fully fueled liquid rocket of the remaining two stages fell back towards earth increasing its speed due to the gravitational pull of the earth. The heat friction caused from the re-entry speeds on the light metal casing of the down spiraling rocket ignited the highly flammable liquid fuel contained in the remaining stages. In addition, the non-aerodynamic free fall of the rocket not designed for re-entry caused multiple fireball explosions in the atmosphere as the rocket broke up. North Korean rocket debris from these explosions scattered as far as 450 miles from the launch site harmlessly into the Yellow Sea.
The United States missile defense sensor assets located in the region both on sea, land and in space tracked the missile from its launch to its breakup. The successful tracking of the failure and the vast Yellow Sea of landing area below gave the explosions of debris not deemed harmful to our allies and our forward based troops near the proposed flight path of this rocket. As a result, there was not a reason nor an attempt to intercept debris or the falling missile.
If necessary there was inherent United States military capability to intercept falling debris with the land based Army Patriot Missile Defense systems deployed in the region. There was also potential inherent intercept capability though not tested of an intercept in the North Korea rocket’s ascent phase, from United States Aegis BMD ships loaded with SM3 Block 1A missiles. These Aegis BMD ships would have had to been positioned correctly and would of have had to be given the decision to shoot very early after the launch. The Japanese Kongo Class Aegis BMD ships in the region would also have some of the same potential untested capabilities.
It is abundantly clear that North Korea and its new leader, Kim Jong Un have been embarrassed. For the first time they have admitted to their own citizens, their regional neighbors as well as the international community, in their past four rocket tests, that they failed. There will most likely be consequences and aggressive reactions by North Korea to regain respect, pride and perception in the region to ascend its new leader from this public loss of face due to this rocket failure. North Korean aggressive actions such as multiple launching of short range missiles and a possible test of a nuclear weapon could likely occur. Even more concerning is the potential provocative actions by South Korea and of Japan towards North Korea. This is clearly a critical time for our missile defense assets in this specific region of the world, much more critical than the defense against a failed rocket. For having multiple missile defense assets in the region, on the seas surrounding North Korea and in South Korea provides a very strong deterrent that can help to stabilize this upcoming critical timeframe where uncertainty and calculus of North Korea is being determined.
The United States of America as a nation and a regional partner in Pacific Asia must be grateful that we have developed, invested and deployed missile defense capability that is helping to deter, de-escalate and provide options that we are using today to provide safety, security and defense. North Korea is a rogue nation that is disobeying United Nations resolutions, blatantly breaking agreements with the United States that is now humiliated and will seek to regain its prestige and power.
It is evident that North Korea has put forward immense investment, internal and external commitment in its long-range ballistic missile technologies. Developing long-range successful ballistic missiles and rockets has always required multiple failures whether it is Russia, China, or the United States who all have a history of repeated rocket failures during development. North Korea will continue to attempt success and the United States as well as our allies must stay our course of developing and deploying missile defense capability for more effort is required to preserve peace and prevent conflict.