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The U.S. Cannot Adequately Protect Us From a Nuclear Attack by North Korea

Message Robert A. Leishear, PhD, PE, ASME Fellow

Even though we do not have access to classified military information, public information shows that the U.S. does not have a full capability to stop North Korean nuclear missiles from killing our people. How scary is this fact?

For decades, U.S. nuclear war policy has been concerned with the threat from Russia, and that threat has recently re-burst upon us. However, North Korea is also a recent threat, which has burst upon us, and we do not know if events will explode into the firing of nuclear weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear deterrence was accepted as a sufficient defense against nuclear war, but recent events evoke the inability of present U.S. air defenses to protect us against nuclear bomb attacks into our homes and into our lives.

If only one nuclear missile breaches U.S. airspace in a nuclear conflict, hundreds of thousands can die from a nuclear blast that lasts for seconds. Deaths result from the vaporization of people, horrific burns, shock wave impacts, building collapses, flying objects, winds from nuclear blasts, and radiation sickness

If more bombs reach American soil, death tolls could exceed one million people. Yes, the U.S. can kill millions of North Korean people in response with more and bigger bombs, but more death does not mean that the U.S. wins.

"Would the detonation of tactical nuclear weapons (atomic bombs) against people equal mass murder and war crimes?" (click here). "None of us are safe from nuclear weapon murders" (click here).

U.S. Nuclear Weapon Defenses

U.S nuclear missile defenses have been shown to be inadequate. Even so, these systems are touted by the U.S. government as being effective.

According to the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, 'the United States, allies, and partners will pursue a comprehensive missile defense strategy that will deliver integrated and effective capabilities to counter ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic missile threats' ("Missile Defense Review", click here).

'The United States, allies, and partners have made great progress in our missile defense programs over the past 16 years', 'including the U.S. capability to defend the homeland against today's offensive missile threat from rogue states'.

To this end, plans are in process to improve U.S. air defenses, but the probable success and status of these plans are unknown. For example, a Star Wars missile defense system was restarted, after being stopped when the Cold War ended ("Star Wars: The U.S. Army plans to use lasers for air defense", click here).

'Missile defense plays a key role in U.S. national security. However, as missile technology matures and proliferates among potential adversaries China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, the threat to the U.S., deployed forces, allies and partners is increasing, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy said.

To address these evolving challenges, the Defense Department will review its missile defense policies, strategies and capabilities to ensure the U.S. has effective missile defenses, Tomero said' ("Official Details DOD Missile Defense Strategy", 2021, click here).

Such a review is not available on the internet, and the increasing nuclear threat to the U.S. was therefore not clarified, and missile defense effectiveness was not confirmed by the Defense Department.

Deficiencies in U.S. Nuclear Weapon Defenses

As a follow-up, 'The capabilities of US systems intended to defend against the nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that North Korea may have or could obtain are currently low and will likely continue to be low for the next 15 years', as stated when the "American Physical Society [released a] new report on US missile defense, 2022" (click here).

'The Ground-based Midcourse (GMD) is the only system that is currently in operation to defend the continental United States, and it has 44 interceptors based in Alaska and California' ("US Nuclear Shield: What nuclear defense does the US have?", click here).

More importantly, the American Physical Society (APS) report noted that "no missile defense system thus far developed has been shown to be effective against realistic ICBM threats", where North Korean missiles are such an ICBM threat.

Specifically, 'Frederick K. Lamb, chair of the study, physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a missile defense expert, [stated that] 'Having looked at the issue in detail, we have come to the conclusion that the current US missile defense system is unreliable and ineffective''. A request for comment on this article was not answered by F. K. Lamb.

Even though this 2022 APS report is in revision to correct technical errors with respect to missile defense during ICBM reentry into the atmosphere (.aps.org/policy/reports/popa-reports/index.cfm), these statements about the inadequacy of these $40 billion U.S. missile defenses are still published to the internet, and are assumed to be valid.

A Threat to Our Lives

Missile defense failures can result in monumental death counts if a nuclear attack explodes into our lives.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "nearly all of the GMD's interceptors were fielded before a single missile of their type was successfully tested. A full half of test intercepts failed in the 15 years following Bush's order to begin building the system" ("US missile defense", .ucsusa.org/nuclear-weapons/missile-defense).

'The Missile Defense Agency says it has tested the system 20 times and it has worked 11 times' ("How effective is missile defense?", click here).

The preponderance of available evidence concludes that U.S. missile defense systems will not stop all incoming missiles that are armed with nuclear warheads to murder people. That is, we are not fully protected against nuclear bomb attacks through current U.S. air defense systems.

Accordingly, if North Korea fires nuclear missiles at the U.S., many bombs may be destroyed. However, the facts are clear that one, or more, nuclear bombs can strike U.S. military targets and cities.

U.S. Nuclear War Deterrence

In fact, nuclear deterrence is the primary U.S. tool to address nuclear war ("DOD official outlines U.S. nuclear deterrence strategy", click here). Quoting this U.S. government document:

'The first school of thought is known as simple nuclear deterrence, sometimes referred to as minimum deterrence. The thought is that deterrence is best achieved with a limited number of nuclear weapons that, for example, could destroy a certain number of an adversary's cities, Soofer said. The viability of the deterrence is created by an adversary's fear of uncontrolled nuclear escalation.

The second school of thought is known as complex nuclear deterrence. This recognizes that nuclear deterrence can be more complicated, requiring an understanding of the adversary and various scenarios that could play out, he said. This strategy also pays close attention to the nuclear balance and places a premium on ensuring the survivability of nuclear forces that can threaten the adversary.

The complex nuclear deterrence approach has been the basis of U.S. nuclear policy since about the 1960s, and it rests on presenting the president with a number of options and capabilities - particularly in a regional conflict - that would deter Russia's nuclear use in any scenario, he said'.

Nuclear deterrence may, or may not, be successful for any potential nuclear war conflict with North Korea. There are too many unknowns to accurately predict the horrific outcomes of a nuclear war. Even so, U.S. nuclear weapon air defenses are known to be inadequate.

Figure 1: Maximum death count for a North Korean attack on Washington, D.C.
Figure 1: Maximum death count for a North Korean attack on Washington, D.C.
(Image by Robert A. Leishear, Adapted from Alex Wellerstein)
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Figure 2: Comparative death counts for different North Korean nuclear bombs fired into Washington, D.C.
Figure 2: Comparative death counts for different North Korean nuclear bombs fired into Washington, D.C.
(Image by Robert A. Leishear, Adapted from Alex Wellerstein and the U.S government)
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Figure 3: Nagasaki devastation due to a 21 kiloton atomic bomb
Figure 3: Nagasaki devastation due to a 21 kiloton atomic bomb
(Image by U.S. government)
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Figure 4: North Korea missile ranges, Adapted from 'Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat' and  'Missile Maps and Data Visualizations'
Figure 4: North Korea missile ranges, Adapted from 'Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat' and 'Missile Maps and Data Visualizations'
(Image by CSIS Missile Defense Project and North Korea government)
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A North Korean Nuclear Bomb Threat in the U.S.?

In short, North Korea has nuclear bombs of course, they have missiles to detonate nuclear bombs on people, and these missiles can strike U.S. cities. In terms of injuries and deaths, some of the predicted effects of nuclear bombs that North Korea has previously tested are described in Figures 1 and 2.

For these figures, Washington, D.C. was used as an example since that city could be a potential target in war. Washington is also considered in Figure 2 for different explosive payloads, including a payload that is equivalent to the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. A background discussion for these figures is available ("Nuclear weapons - Mass murder in South and North Korea?", click here), and "The horror of battlefield tactical nuclear weapons - Insights sparked by events in Ukraine and North Korea", click here).

We do not know the status of North Korean nuclear missile technology. However, Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, [stated] that 'North Korea probably has 40 to 70 manufactured nuclear warheads. Some of those warheads will be higher yield, thermonuclear weapons, and most of those warheads will be fission weapons with relatively lower nuclear yields', ("After record year of arms tests, what's in North Korea's arsenal?", click here).

Nuclear War Death Counts Are Beyond Our Imagination

The accuracy of North Korean nuclear missiles - and the maximum explosive payloads that can be targeted against the U.S. with their missiles - are not known. Accordingly, a range of North Korean nuclear explosive payloads are shown in Figure 2. Figure 2 also shows the atomic bomb explosion at Nagasaki, where an explosion of this magnitude is certainly within the range of North Korean nuclear bombs.

To envision the scale of nuclear war devastation, Figure 3 shows the 1945, atomic bomb destruction in Nagasaki, Japan. To envision dangers to the U.S., Figures 4 and 5 show the ranges of North Korean missiles except for the new Hwasong 17. Figure 4 also shows the firing of one of those missile designs. Note that even a small North Korean nuclear warhead could murder more than 10,000 people in our nation's capitol.

Figure 5: North Korean Missile ranges - ICBM missiles exit the atmosphere after launch, and then re-enter the atmosphere as the tip of the missile melts due to friction with air - Warheads are detonated in the air, or airbursted, to inflict maximum deaths
Figure 5: North Korean Missile ranges - ICBM missiles exit the atmosphere after launch, and then re-enter the atmosphere as the tip of the missile melts due to friction with air - Warheads are detonated in the air, or airbursted, to inflict maximum deaths
(Image by U.S. government)
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North Korean Nuclear Missiles Can Hit Closer to Home

A North Korean ICBM test was executed on November 18th, 2022 (Figure 6). This missile has a range of 17,000 kilometers (10,563 miles), which significantly exceeds the 12,000 to 13,000 kilometer range (7456 to 8078 miles) of previously tested Hwasong 15 missiles. With a mounted warhead, this missile can strike death into any city in the U.S. The remaining unknown question is how accurate these missiles will these missiles be if detonated on people in war?

'According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the North Korean missile flew about 1,000km [621.4 miles] at a maximum altitude of 6,100km [3790.4 miles], and at a maximum speed of Mach 22 (almost 17,000mph)'

'Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters the altitude suggests the missile was launched on a high angle.

He said depending on the weight of a warhead to be placed on the missile, the weapon has a range exceeding 15,000 km [9321 kilometers], in which case it could cover the entire mainland US'.

("Rocket man, North Korea fires huge nuclear capable missile 'designed to hit America' as US soldiers told to seek shelter", click here).

Figure 6: North Korean Hwasong 17 Missile Launch. Note that this source did not confirm that this missile was a Hwasong 17 missile.
Figure 6: North Korean Hwasong 17 Missile Launch. Note that this source did not confirm that this missile was a Hwasong 17 missile.
(Image by North Korean government)
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Additional Nuclear Bomb Test Reports

Many reports pepper the press with fears of nuclear war. These articles were published over several days, after a cloak of military secrecy exploded into this test designed for a weapon that can commit mass murder.

Earlier, a failed November 3rd 'test was believed to have involved [the] developmental ICBM called Hwasong-17'. Testing of the new Hwasong 17 on November 18th has been confirmed by one news source ("North Korea's Kim boasts new ICBM as US flies bombers", click here).

'The Hwasong-17 has a longer potential range than [other North Korean ICBMs], and its huge size suggests it's designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads to defeat missile defense systems'.

The current nuclear missile testing 'showed a potential ability to launch nuclear strikes on all of the U.S. mainland'.

The Hwasong 17 'may have been used in a test carried out [in March]', and 'could possibly carry three or four warheads, rather than only one - making it harder for a nation to defend itself'.

Additionally, the previously tested Hwasong 15 has the ability to strike anywhere in the U.S ("North Korea: What missiles does it have?", .bbc.com/news/world-asia-41174689).

With respect to the November 18th test, 'Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters the altitude suggests the missile was launched on a high angle. He said depending on the weight of a warhead to be placed on the missile, the weapon' 'could cover the entire mainland United States ' ("North Korea test-fires ICBM with range to strike entire US", click here).

His comments are confirmed by Figures 4 and 5, which are based on U.S. government reports.

In other words, the U.S military cannot prevent mass murders from nuclear weapon attacks from North Korea, or protect us from attacks by any other nation with nuclear bombs and missiles.

North Korean Nuclear Tests Condemned

'State Department spokesman Ned Price said the launch demonstrates the threat North Korea's 'unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs pose' to its neighbors, including South Korea and Japan ("White House condemns North Korea's launch of an ICBM with potential to reach continental U.S.", click here).

'[T]he National Security Council condemned the launch as a 'brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions [that] needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region' ("North Korea's Kim Vows to Respond to Nuclear Threats, Oversees Missile Test", click here).

Furthering the Production of Mass Murder

North Korea works to increase their number of bombs, works to increase the death counts from those bombs, and works to increase the accuracy and range of missiles to ensure maximum deaths. In this investigative report, documented facts fall into place to show that North Korea presents a viable death threat to people in the U.S.

Firing a nuclear weapon at people should be legally classified as a war crime. "Make the bomb against the law - Mass murder is a crime" (click here).


ICBM Defenses

Contrary to the information presented here, an article published following this article claimed that U.S. missile defenses will be completely effective against North Korean nuclear missiles ("U.S. Has These Options to Stop A Missile Coming from North Korea", click here). The article stated that the 'U.S. Department of Defense has 44 Ground Based interceptors located in California and Alaska that have the capability to intercept an ICBM coming from North Korea', which 'can intercept a North Korean ICBM during the mid-course phase of flight outside the atmosphere'. Steve Shinkel, a professor of air and space war craft at the U.S. Naval War College provided these statements, and he did not respond to a request for comments.

That article also did not address the 9 failures out of 20 missile interception tests for this U.S. missile defense system. Considering the importance of this issue, Newsweek and the Department of Defense were contacted for comments, but did not answer emails. Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. and Raytheon Co. - makers and assemblers of the missile interceptor thrusters of concern - did not respond to a request for comments.

ICBM Defense Deficiencies

In short, missile defenses are extraordinary, and progressively getting better. To shoot a nuclear missile out of the sky is quite remarkable. However, these defensive interceptors are still fallible (Additional references for these statements can be found in "Ground-Based Midcourse Defense", click here).

Specifically, the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation published a 2014 article titled "The Defense That Does not Defend: More problems for national missile defense" (Click Here). Nine missile interception failures and two non-interception failures occurred between 1999 and 2014 in the GMD missile defense system.

Additional research on the GMD system improved performance, and three successful missile interceptions were performed between 2014 and 2019. However, one test in 2016 failed, where that test did not meet the objective to fly within a near-miss window of an ICBM.

'The closest the interceptor came to the target was a distance 20 times greater than what was expected, said the Pentagon scientists, who spoke on condition they not be identified.'

''The mission wasn't successful', one of the scientists said', and 'did not provide the control necessary for a lethal impact of an incoming threat'.

Also, 'the agency acknowledged, for the first time publicly, that a problem surfaced', and 'corrective actions will be taken for the next flight test'.

"A test of America's homeland missile defense system found a problem. Why did they call it a success, 2016", click here).

Effectively, new information was uncovered with respect to the nuclear safety of our country. Prior to the LA Times investigative report, an initial news release for this missile defense test omitted this missile system failure.

'The missile agency issued a news release that day touting a 'successful flight test,' and the new model 'successfully performed its mission-critical role'.

'In fact, the test was not a success, the Los Angeles Times has learned'. The LA times did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Missile Defense System Will Not Protect Our lives in a Nuclear War

Two successes followed that test. That is, one out of four of the most recent tests failed. Also, tests to intercept missiles with multiple warheads were not performed, and the capability to shoot down these types of missiles is unknown.

More recently in 2019, 'the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency determined that a planned upgrade to the nation's defense against long-range North Korean missiles wasn't going to work'.

'Some observers think it will take ten years [2029] before the first Next Generation Interceptor is delivered, but others involved in thinking through what is doable suggest deliveries could commence around 2026' ("Inside The U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Secret Next Generation Interceptor", click here).

All in all, available information and test results serve to confirm the APS, 2022 findings that the U.S. missile defense system is inadequate. More importantly, such limited test results do not ensure that all North Korean nuclear missiles can be shot down before killing Americans.

Risks of Nuclear War?

Our times are troubled, and we cannot see what is coming. "North Korea warns of 'all-out' nuclear weapons response to 'threats' from U.S., allies" (click here).

We are uncertain of North Korean nuclear war capabilities, and the data presented here shows that we are uncertain of U.S. missile defense capabilities. Three out of four successful GMD tests since 2014 places the U.S. in a dangerous nuclear missile defense position. We are in grave danger if nuclear war starts!

(Article changed on Nov 21, 2022 at 5:14 PM EST)

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Robert A. Leishear, PhD, PE, ASME Fellow Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Robert A. Leishear, PhD, P.E., PMP, ASME Fellow, Who's Who in America Top Engineer, NACE Senior Corrosion Technologist, NACE Senior Internal Piping Corrosion Technologist, AMPP Certified Protective Coatings Inspector, NACE Cathodic Protection (more...)

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