Apr 132017

So, things seem to be getting interesting over North Korea way. NBC news is reporting rumors that the US may launch a military strike on the Norks if they pop off another one of their lameass fun-sized nukes; this, of course, would be an act of war, so Seoul would likely get a mighty artillery barrage and the war would be back on.

But here’s another ponderable: let’s assume that the Norks develop a functioning deliverable nuke *and* a functional ICBM. Now, if Lil’ Kim was a rational actor, he might issue a press release stating “Huzzah! We got us some ICBMs! Respect ma authoritah!” and maybe launch a sizable Sputnik into orbit just to prove what the Nork ICBMs are capable of. There is little else that they could do with a very small nuclear missile force… at least, not rationally.

So, let’s assume that Kim *isn’t* a rational actor. Let’s assume, instead, that he’s a nut, a nut in charge of a nation that is run more like a cult. So, let’s assume North Korea has *one* ICBM and *one* nuke… and his decision is to launch it straight into downtown Los Angeles. There are three immediate possibilities:

1: The ICBM fails and drops the nuke into the drink.

2: The ICBM works, but the nuke doesn’t, and the dud smacks into California leaving a small crater and a radioactive waste site.

3: KERBLAMMO. No more Hollywood.

Now it’s time for the US to respond. Let’s assume that the US has competent, rational political and military leadership when this happens. So what would be the right responses? Seems to me:

1: The US launches a full-scale but *conventional* military campaign to wipe out the North Korean leadership and military capability. Cruise missiles, carpet bombings and eventually ground invasion.

2: *Maybe* a nuclear response…

3: If the US loses a city to a nuclear attack from another nation, IMO it would be both insane and monumentally stupid for the US to *not* respond in kind. Realistically, it displays weakness and invites further attack from other sources. So, if the Norks nuke the US, the US would have to nuke the Norks. But just how much?

I believe most Americans would feel justified in unleashing a nuclear rain of ruin on any nation that destroys an American city. If the 21st century to date has taught us anything, it’s that a lot of people get all snippy about enemies in their “holy cities,” most of which seem to be dry, dusty hellholes with nothing to recommend them. Now, the US has little in the way of “holy cities,” but I’m pretty sure that even Hollywood would gain “sacred ground” status if it gets nuked. So…. North Korea nukes Los Angeles, we walk nukes all up and down Lil’ Kims ass. Lots of people would be damned happy about that.

Of course, a *lot* of people wouldn’t be happy with that. The fallout would undoubtedly unnerve the Chinese, south Koreans and Japanese. But beyond that, there just might be some *ethical* issues with evaporating North Korea. It is, after all, a nation full not of monsters but slaves, slaves to an idiot ideology (NOTE: We trashed the Nazis and Imperial Japanese and repaved their local cultures to suit out purposes… even unto making changes to their religions. Doing the same in North Korea would probably be non-controversial. But oddly, doing the same in some *other* combat zones I can think of… jeez, even mention that, and the SJW’s get all screamy.) and a maniac military/political hierarchy. Some people might say torching them all might not be entirely moral. That said, North Korea has a sizable military; if the military could be nuked out of existence with minimal civilian damage, I think most would see that as fair. But that would also be virtually impossible.

So: North Korea goes and does something… a little odd. How to respond?


 Posted by at 11:15 pm
  • Paul451

    The first step is to ask why NK would nuke the US. “Just because” doesn’t work. They would know what the response is. So they aren’t going to lob a nuke and then politely sit and wait for your turn, like a game of Civilization.

    The only possible reason for nuking the US mainland is as a distraction presaging a full invasion of SK. Based on the belief that while the US might counter-nuke few NK cities and major bases, most of the NK military will be across the border and mixed amongst the South Koreans. That largely limits the US’s ability to target the NK army with tactical nukes, if they don’t want to kill SK cities, forcing the US into a ground war.

    (A better use, IMO, would be a nuclear Verne cannon. Especially if they are limited in the number of nukes they can produce. 1000+ tonne payload into space in a single shot. Dick waving display without the immediate suicide.)

    • FelixA9

      They don’t HAVE to nuke the US. Imagine all the concessions Kim could extort out of a weak US President like Obama just by threatening to nuke the US.

    • Scottlowther

      > “Just because” doesn’t work.

      Sure it does. Sometimes the rulers of nations or movements aren’t rational; sometimes they’re *insane.* Sometimes they’re stupid and arrogant. Assad thought he could get away with nerve gassing civilians in perpetuity. Hitler thought it was a good idea to declare war on the US. The Kims *apparently* buy into the bullshit that they are actually something special sent down from Heaven.

      > a nuclear Verne cannon. … 1000+ tonne payload into space in a single shot.

      Not unless they have a gigaton-class nuke and a cannon dug a hundred miles deep.

      • Paul451

        Sometimes the rulers of nations or movements aren’t rational; sometimes they’re *insane.*

        Insane reasoning is still a kind of reasoning. My point was, that reasoning will play a part in NK’s other actions, and hence in the US’s response. It will not be, send-a-nuke then politely sit and wait for the US to decide how to respond.

        Tactically, Hitler wanted to start destroying US ships supplying the UK, strategically, he also wanted to give diplomatic support to Japan’s war, wanting the US to fight on two fronts, before opening up a second front of his own against Russia. Stupid, but he had a “reasons”.

        I’m not saying the reasoning has to be correct. Just that it has to be there. If Kim decided to invade SK, I can see him and his generals reasoning that a nuclear strike against the US would serve as a distraction. He’d be wrong, but I can see them reasoning that way.

        [aside: NK already has medium range heavy missiles (around 500-1000 mile range with 500kg+ warhead). So before they have ICBM’s and warheads capable of riding them, they should have dozens of warheads capable of riding medium range missiles. If’n I were a mad NK dictator, wanting to commit suicide, instead of launching an ICBM, I’d put dozens of medium range nuclear missiles on a cargo ship, with the launchers disguised as stacks of shipping containers. Sail a circuitous route to the US east coast (along the way, swapping places with decoy ships sailing from innocuous ports.) Once the ship is within range, shower the target-rich arc between the naval bases in Virginia through DC, Philly, NY, perhaps as far north as Boston. Then scuttle the ship. It might even register on Early Warning Systems as a sub launch. Ideally, increase confusion by laying low in the 12 months leading up to the attack (no missile tests, no bombastic threats, maybe even be negotiating a new round of peace talks) and waiting for particularly heightened tensions between China and the US (or with Taiwan/Japan) or in the middle of a major Chinese naval exercise.]

        Not unless they have a gigaton-class nuke and a cannon dug a hundred miles deep.

        150kT, 2-3 miles, 3000+ tonne payload. (Depending on how much mass needs to be wasted on the sabot and heat-shield.) You tunnel into a deep formation like a salt-dome, excavate out a cavity, fill it with water, suspend the nuke at the centre surrounded by a thick boron shell. The payload is half way up the tunnel, below the payload the tunnel is filled with compressible fluid (such as oil). The boron/water converts the blast/heat into pressure, the oil acts as a shock absorber, dropping the g-load by an order of magnitude. (Still talking 1000g’s or more, limiting you to ruggedised electronics and very heavy engineering, but with over a thousand tonnes to play with…)

        It doesn’t give you the payload mass of an Orion, and you certainly can’t launch humans or anything as sensitive to g-force, but it doesn’t require the number of warheads, nor the level of engineering.

        (There’s also a version that would work in the ocean. Lower payload, but cheaper and can be launched further from your own country.)

        • Scottlowther

          > 150kT, 2-3 miles, 3000+ tonne payload.

          You got math on that?

          > Depending on how much mass needs to be wasted on the sabot and heat-shield.

          And how much velocity is *immediately* lost upon exiting the gun barrel at well past orbital velocity while still within the atmosphere? Additionally: you’re using water and oil as the “reaction mass.” How much water and oil? And how does accelerating that mass of water and oil eat into the actual projectile mass? Remember, that plug of oil that is the same diameter not only of the projectile, but of it’s sabot, and is half the length of the entire barrel… and it all gets accelerated to the same velocity as the projectile. So if your *total* projectile mass is 3000 tons, you might have, what, 2800 tons of oil and a hundred tons of water. With 80 tons of sabot and 19.9 tons of environmental impact study and licensing paperwork, there’s not much left for actual payload.

          • Paul451

            You got math on that?

            Just modelling I’ve seen. (It gives 6000 tonnes for a 150kT warhead. But assumes 50% losses. I suspect the losses will be higher, obviously.)

            2800 tons of oil and a hundred tons of water

            Tens of thousands of tonnes of water. The excavation is larger than the tunnel. There has to be enough water to absorb the total energy from the nuke, converting the water to high pressure steam. Essentially it’s Satan’s steam cannon.

            (This is why it would also work in the open ocean. The incompressible water (beyond a certain distance from the nuke, obviously everything’s compressible to a nuke) acts as a shell, the path of least resistance is a gas-pressurised tube suspended above the nuke. The energy will “squirt” up the tube, acting as a velocity multiplier, similar to a light-gas-gun.)

            The oil is an energy transfer mechanism. In an ideal system, there would be perfect transference to the payload (like a Newton’s Cradle). In reality the compression/expansion wave, as it acts as a shock-absorber, will convert a portion of the impact energy to waste heat. The pulse travels through it, it doesn’t remain at the velocity of the payload. Tuned properly, the bulk of it should have no net velocity.

            and 19.9 tons of environmental impact study

            …North Korea.

          • Scottlowther

            Tens of thousands of tons of water, thousands of tons of projectile, only 150 kilotons of nuke. Suggestion: calculate the delta v required to get to orbit. That will give you the kinetic energy that will need to be added to each kilogram of “stuff.” now, calculate the number of joules in 150 kilotons, and see if there are enough. Now, factor in the multitude of efficiency losses

          • Paul451

            Again you’re assuming that we’re trying to accelerate all of the water/oil to orbital velocity.

            The water is the second ball in the Newton’s Cradle. It is hit by the blast (the first ball) and absorbs the momentum, it then in turn hits the oil, transferring the momentum and ending at rest. The oil is the next ball, which transfers the momentum to the payload, ending at rest. The payload is the final ball which “swings” freely.

            In reality, it will be lossy as hell. But not for the reasons you are picturing.

    • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

      What’s “just because” to us might be to them merely the next logical step in the glorious revolution. To Kim et al., it might be a rational act resulting from possession of the tools required.

  • thingytest 3

    A scenario I’m personally very concerned about is the North Koreans threatening China with a nuclear strike on Beijing unless we support them in a war with the US…

    • i don’t think there’s any way Beijing would actually be extorted by their idiot stepchild. They have at least three hundred nukes. If Beijing is nuked by the DPRK then a whole slew of the standard Chinese 3 and 5 megaton weapons will detonate on and above what will soon be the worlds largest deposit of trinitite with no regard whatsoever to civillian casualties. The winds tend to blow West to East from China and in the spring and summer the continental dry monsoon blows everything away from China anyway. This would carry catastrophic radioactivity over Japan which the Chinese will regard as a feature and not a bug. There’s really no arrestor switch on a Chinese response to such an event.

      • thingytest 3

        Yes, but a radioactive North Korea (filled with refugees streaming across the DMZ and Yalu), poisoned and angry South Korea, and poisoned and angry Japan (together with a non-poisoned and still threatening US of A capable of dumping a dozen brigade combat teams into South Korea ‘to handle the refugees’) is not the kind of thing the Chinese government would consider a “win”.

  • George Allegrezza

    Scenario 4: DPRK launches ICBM, GBI works.

    Scenario 5: DPRK launches ICBM, GBI doesn’t work.

    Scenario 5A: DPRK launches ICBM, GBI doesn’t work, warhead lands in East B-F Alaska, no casualties.

  • If their funsized nukes are thin cased, boosted fission weapons, then they might try for an EMP to knock out the electrical grid. I’m not sure that the 300 mile high continent spanning nuke blast that gets so much attention would be practical, even with an optimised device unless it was a multi megaton weapon, but they could fire a handful to lower altitudes and cause considerable mayhem that wouldn’t require targeting precision beyond hitting a continent..

    As for response, I’d say try just nuking Pyonyang…thouroughly, with multiple overlapping blast patterns, but no ground bursts. The rest of the country is mostly just the victims of the politburo. With the seat of government gone, there is at least a slim possibility that the rest of the country might not fight to the death or blast Seoul to bits.

  • Charles P. Kalina

    Possible Response #4: dithering, negotiation, and some peace-in-our-time “agreement”. This is especially likely if the attack does minimal damage, either because of a malfunction, or because that was the intent. Maybe the US wouldn’t respond this way, but it’s not implausible — which in turn might lead Pyongyang to calculate (or miscalculate) that it was worth a try.

    Let’s say NK felt it necessary to prove they were willing and able to hit the United States, but wanted to avoid provoking massive retaliation. So they fire an ICBM with a nuclear warhead that detonates in some remote area (for laughs, let’s say at the old Nevada Test range). “Give us what we want, or we’ll nuke Los Angeles” suddenly becomes a much more credible threat.

    • Scottlowther

      In that case, a better use of the nuke – not just for North Korea, but also ISIS or Al Queda or Russia or whoever – would be to set off said nuke on the ground, either ona cargo ship or in a truck, out in the middle of nowhere. Communicate to the US government five minutes beforehand, “hey, look a these co-ordinates” then touch it off. *Then* had over a stack of photos showing other nukes in the backs of vans and trucks, with visible American landmarks out through the window. Message being: they *already* have a number of nukes planted across the US, ready to go off unless the US agrees to the list of concessions.

      However, I’d see this more from someone like Russia than North Korea. It’s more rational, slightly less stupid and insane. And if Russia did this, the only good response the US would have would be to hand over to the Russians a folder of *American* nukes touring Russian cities. Thus I expect that the major cities of the US, Russia, Europe, Asia *already* are salted with enemy nukes. SHTF, I expect cities will vanish pretty quickly, not an ICBM in sight.

      • Charles P. Kalina

        For deterrence or coercion (rather than a one-off terrorist attack for its own sake), you need the enemy to know that you have the ability to strike at will. ICBMs tell him that. Weapons placed clandestinely on enemy territory do not, because by definition, the enemy doesn’t know that they’re there.

        What you’d have to do is prove to your enemy that the weapons were there, while still keeping them securely hidden. That’s a tough circle to square. Photos wouldn’t be enough, because you can’t tell whether they show “other nukes” or just a single inert mock up photographed multiple times.

        Weapons placed on enemy territory also create a ton of potential security, command-and-control, and diplomatic headaches that you don’t get with missiles based on your own territory.

        ICBMs are complicated and expensive, but countries still go to the trouble of trying to develop them because they’re a better way to do it.

        • Scottlowther

          > Photos wouldn’t be enough, because you can’t tell whether they show
          “other nukes” or just a single inert mock up photographed multiple

          Here’s the thing: let’s say a crappy Nork-class nuke goes off in, say, Baltimore. Five minutes before the blast, a call goes in to the white House, the FBI, CIA, whoever, giving details on when and where. Enough lead time to make it clear that you are setting the nuke off on purpose. Not enough lead time for the cops to do anything about it. OK, blammo. A chunk of a major city evaporates.

          You have, by definition, proven that you have the ability to sneak a nuke in. There is absolutely zero doubt.

          Here’s the extra-evil part: at the same time you’re calling the cops with the warning, you email to Fox, MSNBC, CNN, BBC, etc. a package of photos, videos, other documentation showing a number of other nukes being hauled around. I’m sure there are ways to film things to make it certain you can be verified… drive your truck past known surveillance cameras and show the trucks in the video, so your “tour” can be independently verified. Make sure your videos show a number of different nukes.

          Of course, it may be difficult to impossible to prove that those other nukes are for real. But you’ve just demonstrated *one.* So now you start making your demands.

          For this system to *really* work, you should have at least two nukes. First as a demo, the second as “I guess you didn’t learn your lesson the first time” when the US doesn’t promptly start dancing to your tune. Once that second bomb goes off, I bet the US economy would *promptly* implode as the major cities try to empty. Even if you don’t have a third, you’ve probably just brought the US down for all practical purposes.

      • Paul451

        At least some of such nukes would have been discovered by now, though normal counter-espionage, through defectors, or whenever detection systems periodically got just far ahead of existing shielding for long enough before the shielding could be increased. And the more often you have to update or move your weapons, the more at risk of being picked up by counter-espionage operations. The less active you are, the more likely they are to be accidentally found.

        And while the recovery of those weapons would be classified up the wazzoo, over the decades it would have leaked. (It’s just too tempting for someone to whisper it behind closed doors when trying to wrangle funding for their black-budget. And for politicians then read-in to use it to show off how in-the-know they were… etc. Everything that big always leaks.)

      • publiusr

        As far as the DPRK is concerned–Were I President, this is how I might respond.

        “Today the regime that oppresses the people of North Korea has.launched an ICBM at the United States. Their UNHA-3 was about the level of our extinct Thor-Able–and the gun style nuke was enough to cause some localized EMP damage.”

        “Though my Generals are outraged at this–I have chosen not to respond–for two reasons. Though the DPRK is in truth no great threat to us, their conventional forces are such that they could kill many innocents in South Korea. They have not chosen to do this as of yet. Neither will I unleash our arsenal of nuclear death upon the hapless residents of North Korea–who are equally oppressed.”

        “So I will do something unexpected–and (cough) surrender to the DPRK. It is evident that our ABM system isn’t good enough–and that the gods are angry with the US.”

        —Press: But Mr. President, last month you launched a classified payload atop the first SLS–widely assumed to be part of project Thor, and”

        “That was a small asteroid that hit the North Korean capital. That was not from us. It is also evident that the gods are angry with a regime that has starved its own people–to no avail. Just remember what Hugo Drax said: You will be able to look up and know that there is law and order in the heavens.

  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    When I first heard of that NBC report I assumed it was yet another “subtle attempt” by the MSM to undercut Trump. Or NBC obtained an old war plan or maybe a university paper by an aspiring officer .

  • Madoc

    If such a scenario had unfurled in the previous administration you’d have a lot more room to doubt the extent on the US response.

    With the current administration? Well… let’s just say that if the Norks decided to be that stupid the end result would be a bunch of Left wingers here in the US whining that Trump used all the nukes he did against North Korea so as to have a monopoly on the Trinitite market.

    It’d be slagged from the DMZ to the Yalu.

    The Left would utterly lose it for that.

    And the rest of the nation would just look at crater that was LA and declare that even that glassing wasn’t enough.

    Oh, and after the glassing? You’d expect a whole bunch of current trouble spots and trouble makers to suddenly start getting real calm and peaceable like….

  • Thalesourus

    You forgot the “magic” word. “China”. They aren’t interested in a unified Korea on their border and will go to war to prevent it. The best scenario is China using a lighting strike on the ground to take out the nut job dictator and put someone semi-rational in charge.