Missile Defense, Japanese Style

Illustration of Japan's layered BMD System. Image: Japan's Ministry of Defense. (Double click to expand, but it's still not quite legible... that's JMOD's doing, not ours).

We still see people claiming that ballistic missile defense is impossible. That’s silly; it was impossible, or very very difficult, in 1962, but that was 50 years ago. Since then every aspect of interception technology has improved, but missile defense opponents still cling to their 1962 arguments that ultimately brought down the first US ABM (anti-ballistic missile) system over the next decade.

While the President seems eager to cancel missile defense research and deployment, not above a little groveling to appease the Russians, other nations that are directly threatened by intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic  missiles (IRBMs/ICBMs) in the hands of rogue regimes are less blithe about the prospects of being nuked, and are taking precautions. One of those nations is Japan, frequently the target of saber-rattling by the cannibal cabal running North Korea. In Popular Mechanics, Joe Pappalardo runs down the mechanics of how a Japanese defense would unfold against a Nork strike, or Nork loss of control of one of their missiles launched in Japan’s general direction.

At this point in our scenario, the Taepodong is aloft and the Japanese are nervous. What can they do about it?

Missile defense works in layers. The first layer is a fight in space, led by Japanese destroyers armed with SM-3 interceptors. These weapons deploy a kill vehicle into space that use the launching ship’s targeting data and long-wave infrared seeker to hunt down the missile as it streaks outside the Earth’s atmosphere. It kills the missile with a kamikaze plunge into its path. Japan says it will deploy three destroyers with SM-3s in response to the threat of a North Korean test.

Japan's PAC-3 anti-missile system. It also has an antiaircraft capability. Image: Japan MOD. (This one is legible if double-clicked).

If those interceptors miss the target—and they certainly might—then land-based interceptors are on hand to target the dummy payload or debris from the rocket’s stages as it reenters the atmosphere. These Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems use millimeter wave guidance to track and collide with cruise and ballistic missiles. The Japanese have owned these systems since 2008. The PAC-3s for this test would launch from Air Self-Defense Force bases on three islands. The Japanese government is also considering rushing the deployment of PAC-3 systems in Okinawa, which was planned for 2014.

via The Weapons of a North Korea–Japan Missile Standoff – Popular Mechanics.

He also covers the Norks’ missile technology, and some of the sensitive ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) satellites that maintain a global vigil for, among other anomalies, missile launches.  Read the whole thing.

What he doesn’t mention is that the Japanese defensive systems are based upon US technology. However, experts seem to believe that the Japanese have added some tweaks of their own to the missile software, which they do share with their American counterparts. The Japanese Ministry of Defense has an informative page (in English) about Japanese ballistic missile defense systems and planning.

The US system that was under construction in 2009 also was to include ground-based interceptors on the American West Coast, whose readiness has been reduced over the last three years, and an airborne laser capability, development of which was canceled, despite successful tests, as a diplomatic lagniappe, part of the “reset” of relations with Russia.

The same advances in technology that make Standard SM-3 and Patriot Advanced Capability missiles more effective than the Sentry and Safeguard missiles cancelled 40 years ago, are worth examining for students of ground combat, because they are likely to lead, given Moore’s Law, to active defense technology that works against light rockets and rocket-propelled grenades in the short run and against “dumb” projectiles before too long. Can you hit a bullet with a bullet? In 2012, the answer is… “soon.”

Hopefully we will not need Pappalardo’s information to pry the facts out of news stories in the days ahead, as the Norks prepare to launch… something. But if we do, you’ve got it now.

Hat tip: the Professor.

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