North Korea’s most recent missile test in early May 2019 has raised quite a few eyebrows, and not just for the diplomatic challenge it presents to the US. It is a strategic threat that possibly is much higher than can be gleaned upon first glance. With the sea faring dominance and force projection capabilities of the modern Carrier Strike Group (CSG), the United States Navy has long considered itself the assurance of the dominance of the US in affairs abroad- a posture built upon hubris, but one that has served the US interests’ well over since WWII. A force projection challenge to other nations, and one that has been taken for granted over the years while strategic counters to the CSG have been sought.
Of those solutions, the land or air based short range missile appears to be the most lethal threat.
Telegraphing this intent has been several strategic planners of both Russia and China, with a test bed of fielding new equipment to rouge nations who will further their development. After all, it was a Chinese Admiral who claimed early this year that the US Navy could be defeated by sinking two Carriers– and to suggest that such a thing could not be done is an admission of defeat. It is indeed within the realm of possibilities, and very well could happen given the right set of circumstances. But no theory is worth talking about without experimentation, and expounding upon a larger strategic goal absent a workable plan would be foolish. And the Chinese are anything but.
Enter North Korea.
During the height of the Korean missile crisis in late 2017, three CSGs were deployed to the region as a show of force. The problem was and remains twofold; you’ve now created a target rich environment and a predictable pattern by which you operate. Having that many boats in one spot is dangerous given the documented electronic warfare capabilities of the Chinese and the Russians with regard to shipboard navigation systems. The strategic counter would be to create a situation that incurs a response- and then on the attack launch a series of short range missiles designed to defeat US counter battery systems.
On the surface, it would appear North Korea has nothing to gain from any missile test, which would assuredly (and predictably) lead to more sanctions and economic strain on the nation already suffering from economic woes and mass famine. But that said they would greatly benefit from proof of concept- a land based deterrent to the symbol of Western omnipotence. And given that experts in the technology can reasonably conclude the weapons tested are Russian in origin, it doesn’t take much to figure out that’s exactly what’s happening.
What we know about the weapon based upon open source intelligence (OSINT) is that it is based on the SS-26 Iskander, a short range missile designed to be fielded by heavy truck to support regional operations. While the original development of the weapon was intended to be used against ground forces’ targets, the weapon could easily be modified (and modernized) to suit a land based counter-CSG role. At its current known speed, in excess of Mach 5, the US Patriot counter battery system is outmatched. It is also likely that some form of composite Radar Absorbent Material (RAM) has been implemented into the newest design, as a report from South Korea indicates that Aegis systems could not track the North Korean missile after launch. If confirmed, it would be one more indication of the threat level posed by these weapons.
Iran has long since been an ally of Russian interests, fielding mostly Russian weapons and equipment while also developing upgrades in their own missile delivery systems, mostly propelled by on-the-job research done by their proxy, Hezbollah. Their own operations recently have been centered around understanding just how many missiles the Raytheon-built Iron Dome system can withstand, a system very similar to our own naval threat defense systems. Iran’s homegrown (based on Russian systems) Shahab system is centered around key upgrades to defeating an Iron Dome-type system, posing a very real threat to the US CSG. As of this writing, the USS Abraham Lincoln is deployed to the Arabian Peninsula as a deterrent against the rapidly growing Iranian aggression.
Timing speaks volumes. The North Korean test should be viewed as a telegraphing of capability already in the hands of Iran as well as North Korea, and a warning of the waning threat the CSG actually poses. Whether that threat is heeded or not is another story entirely.
Last November I suggested that Russian missiles will once more be placed on Cuban soil, based on remarks made by a retired Russian General. While everyone defaults to thinking in regards to strategic weapons, and they should, the imminent threat posed by a land-based anti-Naval weapon is very real and appears to be confirmed. Couple that with the capability for this weapon to carry low yield nuclear warheads, parking those right to our south presents a threat with little to no reaction time- or warning. With the growing ties both Russia and China seek in South and Central America while looking to remove us from the economic table, it might be likely that the short range ballistic missile tested by North Korea is the new strategic weapon to be feared.