Friday, April 03, 2009

What Should We Do with the North Korean Projectile?

If the rocket or any of its major components go on a trajectory that would likely cause it to fall somewhere on Japanese land, then it wouldn’t make sense not to try to intercept it. The North Korean authorities appear to be making threats in this regard, but they’re leaving themselves enough room to talk their way out of having to make a counterattack without losing face by claiming that the Japanese actions did not turn out to be an attack. Besides, what can the North Korean authorities do? Impose a trade embargo? What’s more intriguing is this: Will the U.S. Aegis destroyers in the area also fire their missiles at a falling (or about-to-fall) projectile? I’m not sure that point has been adequately addressed publicly. I assume they will; if they don’t, that will surely unsettle the Japanese public and seriously impact the bilateral security relationship. Either way, it’s a matter that cannot be tabled until the occasion actually arises.

But why shoot it down if it’s likely to fall into the sea, even if it’ happens to be our territorial waters? Even in Tokyo Bay, the chances of a hit causing damage should be lower than getting a hit on your number in a turn of roulette—not that I would recommend taking that chance, but still. Shouldn’t we take the claims of the North Korean authorities at face value and retrieve it for them, check the device to make sure that it was indeed a satellite launch, then hand it over in the spirit of neighborliness…after, of course, they reimburse us for costs incurred?

Incidentally, the English-language media is calling it both a “missile” and a “rocket”. It appears to hang on the whim of the reporter (or the copy desk). The Japanese media, except for that one example that I referred to, consistently calls it “misairu”, or “missile”.


Sophie said...

Mount a giant tennis racket on a ship and swing it back, adding effect to make it land just on the line. 15-0.


It is true that if the projectile is bound to land in water, shooting it down will be done in order to make a statement, and also to test the ability to do so in 'real operations' conditions. I had the impression that intercepting projectiles techniques were not totally mastered, so such an opportunity should not be missed.

LB said...

One possible reason to shoot at it even if it looks like it is going in the water (assuming the trajectory can be calculated quickly enough to know that it is is falling into the ocean near Japan, and not on land, while still having enough time to take that shot): if it is coming down, that would probably mean the 2nd or 3rd stages aren't working properly, and are thus going to pile in while still full of fuel. It would probably be better to take the shot and try to blow the rocket up rather then let it crash and pollute wherever it hits with a whole bunch of methylhydrazine. But that could just be me.

Besides, even if they hit it, there is still going to be a lot of metal falling into the ocean to recover, unless the SDF has managed to develop a "dokodemo door" and fit it to the interceptor missiles. I still remember seeing a reporter in GW1 standing next to the remains of a Scud in Saudi acting shocked that the missile still existed after being shot down. I thought "and what did you THINK was going to happen to the couple of tons of metal that missile was made of?"

Jun Okumura said...

Ah, Sophie-san, how did you gain access to our top-secret air defense system?!

*must. remind. our. military. to. get. rid. of. those Winnie. files from. their. &#%$#& computers.*

Seriously, I think we want whatever we might find to be as much of a piece as possible. A whole coelacanth, rather than a flipper there, a fin here, you know. But I’m just guessing.

You have a point about the rocket fuel. How serious a problem is that, though? Isn’t it pretty volatile, even if it isn’t burned off? And I know this sounds crass, but it won’t be the first rocket that fell into the ocean. I’ll see if I can find any science on this.

Mattt Dioguardi said...

My guess is that if they try to shoot it down, they'll miss and it'll be an embarrassment. So it's probably better not to try.

It may sound like I'm being tongue in cheek, but I'm not.

Joe said...

I don't know how volatile rocket fuel is, but apparently it is quite toxic, and therefore really not good if it comes down in a fishing area, near the shore, or on land.

LB said...

There now seems to be some debate about what, exactly, they are fueling that rocket with. If it is methylhydrazine, then it is a known carcinogen and caustic agent. Naturally, it would be heavily diluted if the rocket (still fueled) fell in the ocean and broke apart immediately. But if the tanks stayed intact and did a slow leak, well you might not want to eat any fish from that part of the Sea of Japan.

Then again, it might solve the Echizen kurage "problem".

Now, it is also possible the fuel used is basically kerosene. Taepodong 2s apparently use that as fuel. If this rocket also uses kerosene, then it would be much less harmful even if it did come down intact.

Jun Okumura said...

Thanks for the information, guys. Let’s hope that it’s clean burn then.

That holds true for Matt’s point too, at least where the government is concerned. Reports of MD system tests have been few and far between and not always successful. I’m not sure that we even have a beta system in the field yet despite spending billions (and I talking dollars, not yen). Imagine the outcry if we miss. Not only will that be a horrible political embarrassment, a huge chunk of its deterrent value will have gone down the drain. And something that goes terribly off-course; isn’t that more difficult to track? Just sayin’.