Thursday, March 19, 2009

Standing By for Orders?

According to our senior commanders in the Pacific, the U.S. military is prepared to shoot down North Korea's Tapeodong-2 missile when it is launched next month.

If it is called upon.

That's an important caveat, because there is no indication (yet) that President Obama has given that order. At this point, we're roughly two weeks away from the DPRK's planned launch window, and comments from Admiral Timothy Keating, the Commander of U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) suggest the shoot down directive has not been issued.

More from the AP via Breitbart:

Admiral Keating told senators at a hearing that there was a "high probability" that the United States could knock down a North Korean missile. Gen. Walter Sharp, the U.S. commander in South Korea, said the threat "is real."

[snip]

Keating said the United States is getting "reasonable intelligence" reports that give a close look at North Korea's activities.

"We'll be prepared to respond," he said, adding that "the United States has the capability" to shoot down any missile.

In terms of "reasonable intelligence," Admiral Keating means the U.S. has some idea of Pyongyang's plans, in terms of an actual satellite launch, or a long-range missile test masquerading as a satellite shot. We may not have conclusive data, but through the use of advanced imagery techniques and MASINT (Measures and Signatures Intelligence) sensors, the intel community has probably made a preliminary call, favoring one scenario over the other.

Put another way, the Obama Administration (at this point) should have enough information to make a call, and issue a warning to the DPRK. Prior to the last TD-2 test in 2006, the U.S. put land and sea-based missile defenses on higher alert, and publicly promised to shoot down the missile, if it threatened our interests, including American allies in the region. The intercept became unnecessary when the long-range missile fell apart, roughly 100 seconds into its flight.

So far, Mr. Obama has refrained from making a similar vow, creating some confusion among military leaders and our Asian partners. Keating made similar remarks a couple of weeks ago, earning a verbal rebuke from White House aides, who claimed that the admiral's comments were unhelpful and could upset diplomatic overtures to North Korea.

As we noted previously, the logic of this approach is apparently lost on Japan as well. Tokyo has threatened to intercept the TD-2 if it threatens Japanese territory--a virtual certainty--using its Kongo-class destroyers, equipped with the same Aegis radar system and SM-3 interceptor missiles found on U.S. naval vessels.

Without better coordination, we could well witness a Japanese combatant knock down the North Korean missile while we stand by and watch. While the Japanese have the inherent right of self-defense, the ramifications of that intercept would be felt throughout Northeast Asia and beyond. Even South Korea, the most likely target for any North Korean military action, would be uneasy over Japanese forces taking defensive action against the DPRK.

Reading between the lines of Admiral Keating's testimony, he appears to be prodding Washington for some kind of guidance on the pending TD-2 launch. His assets include several ballistic missile defense ships assigned to the 7th Fleet (home ported in Japan), as well as land-based interceptor missiles in Alaska and tracking radars across the region, all designed to deal with this type of threat.

These resources can be rapidly deployed, placed on heightened alert and respond to the North Korean test. All that's required is an executive decision. Based on his testimony before Congress, it sounds like Admiral Keating is still awaiting orders, even at this (relatively) late hour.

3 comments:

Captain Ned said...

Obama is an idiot who will allow the rest of East Asia to fear a militarily-resurgent Japan (even though they're acting solely in self-defense) rather than take any US military action.

Satellite or not, the launch is still a cover for an ICBM and it should be shot out of the sky. It'd be best if done by the US Navy, but the only way to make that happen would be to slip an order authorizing same into Obama's teleprompter feed.

Corky Boyd said...

By pussy footing around, the Obama administration is inviting the very nuclear proliforation they seek to avoid. The unannounced overflight and nearby splashdown of the DPRK missile 10 years ago aroused Japanese public ire like none other. Japan could go nuclear on a moments's notice changing the mid east military balance of power forever. The promise of US nuclear protection has kept the Japanese out of the club. But Obama's timidness will make Japan doubt our obligations.

The same could happen with the Saudis in the Mid East.

PCSSEPA said...

Obama will be counted as "present" but missing in action on this one. His unaltered course of indecision is going to cost us dearly. The only thing that he wants for certain is a greatly weakend and reduced U.S. military. He holds no concept of "The Law of Unintended Consequeces." At the risk of repeating myself, again, he is an empty suit.