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According to the Defence Committee, North Korea will “almost certainly” have Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles able to reach the UK within six to 18 months.

North Korea will soon achieve its goal of posing a nuclear threat to its opponents, according to a Report by the House of Commons Defence Committee, and is unlikely to abandon its quest for a nuclear arsenal so close to fulfilment. Its ruler, Kim Jong-un, “is ruthless, like other Communist dictators before him, but he is rational” and “can be dissuaded from the use of nuclear weapons, by means of a policy of deterrence and containment.”

Within the next six to 18 months, North Korea is almost certain to be able to reach the UK with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) though its ability to arm them with nuclear warheads has yet to be proven says the committee. The report adds that the United Kingdom is more likely to face further cyber-attacks from North Korea; adverse consequences of nuclear proliferation by North Korea; and calls for regional assistance in the event of allies coming under attack by North Korea.

The report states:

“A North Korean nuclear strike against the UK seems highly unlikely. We do not believe that North Korea regards the UK as a primary target – its goal being to threaten the United States mainland (although also bringing the UK within range of its missiles) in the event of hostilities on the peninsula. It will be obvious to Kim Jong Un that initiating a nuclear exchange is bound to lead to North Korea’s annihilation: the polar opposite of his objective of regime survival.

We consider that Kim Jong Un, though undoubtedly ruthless, is nevertheless rational. As such, he could be dissuaded and deterred from launching a nuclear weapon. It is far more likely that the UK will continue to suffer from reckless North Korean cyber-attacks, such as Wannacry. North Korea has shown an utter lack of concern about who gets hurt by such attacks.”

North Korea has made significant advances in its nuclear weapons development programme, with an unprecedented series of missile launches and nuclear tests over the past two years. It is possible that North Korea can already strike the United Kingdom with ICBMs, which could potentially carry and deliver nuclear warheads. It is almost certain to achieve this range within the next six to 18 months. However, “North Korea has not yet publicly demonstrated that it has mastered either nuclear warhead miniaturisation or re-entry”, and a North Korean nuclear strike against the UK seems “highly unlikely”, given its primary focus on threatening the United States mainland.

According to the Committee, “It is obvious to North Korea that launching such weapons would lead inescapably to devastating military consequences.” By contrast, it is “far more likely that the UK will continue to suffer from reckless North Korean cyber-attacks, such as Wannacry”, on account of the regime’s “utter lack of concern about who gets hurt by such attacks.”

There is also “a definite danger that North Korea would have few, if any, qualms about promoting nuclear proliferation to other states, or even non-state actors”, and the government is asked what action it will take to prevent North Korea from selling on its nuclear technology.

Committee chairman Julian Lewis said:

“The nuclear and cyber threats posed by North Korea are typical of the new and intensifying dangers confronting the UK. Yet, new threats require extra investment – not the usual process of simply balancing the books by sacrificing conventional capabilities which are still needed to deal with ongoing older threats.

We need to invest much more than the Nato minimum of two per cent of GDP. A target nearer three per cent is essential to fill existing holes in the defence budget and counter re-emerging state-based threats from Russia and North Korea.”

37 COMMENTS

  1. Time to invest heavily in Dragonfire for our ships and a larger land based version of it to protect our coastline and major cities.

    Stop spending billions of pounds pa on charitable aid and invest in our armed forces and security services instead.

    We can use both the manpower and equipment to support the UK’s aid contribution in peacetime.
    And with the amount of current and future threats we face, charity needs to begin at home.

        • I suspect Dragonfire-like technology is a long way from being much use against ICBMs. Firstly, as I understand it these aren’t like Startrek phasers that zap things like a gun, they need to stay trained on a target for a while (seconds?) to achieve their effect. It’s a whole different ballgame doing that on a subsonic or barely supersonic sea skimmimg missile at within-horizon ranges vs doing that for a high altitude hypersonic ICBM on reentry. The angular precision required to keep on target is massively (and I mean massively) increased. Then add the additional power needed for the increased interception range and probably the fact that the ICBM has some level of heat shielding for reentry and it’s a way, way more difficult challenge for a laser based weapon vs what the RN and others are looking to Dragonfire for.

  2. The trouble is that politicians and by association the establishment in general have done so much damage to their reputations when it comes to having the public believe them, so much so that I’m not convinced that reports such as these will even move the dial on the public debate.

    Two of the biggest own goals still in most voters’ memories are…

    The Iraq dodgy dossier claiming Sadam had weapons of mass destruction ready to be used within 45 minutes.

    The Remain campaign’s increasingly hysterical rhetoric in the days before the referendum about the claimed negative consequences that reached their peak when George Osbourne gave a speech claiming that he would need to have an emergency budget within days after a leave vote to plug a £30bn black hole with an immediate £15bn tax hike and £15bn of spending cuts.

    (Yes, the Leave campaign made some very dodgy claims too but Remain got to an almost childish level in the last week or so of the campaign – and I say that as a Remainer.)

    • Let me correct you, it was the Leave campaigns increasingly hysterical rhetoric in the last days of the campaign with their manufactured smear against Remain of them running a project fear!

      An emergency budget would have been highly sensible but hysteria from Leave prevented it happening forcing the Bank of England to step in to stave off a recession.

      • I think it was highly sensible of the BoE to step in, lowering interest rates to 0.25% and printing more money. Did hysteria from Leave force it? No, the vote did which I have found a lot of voters actually researched themselves and aren’t the foppish headline followers that many in the press continually claim.

        Had there been an emergency budget, cutting some 15bn from spending, have a guess where it would have fallen…. Defence. We would then be here discussing how we came to scrapping the Royal Marines.

  3. Morning all
    Before we start talking numbers and increases let’s take a bit of time to understand what the committee has said and what potential raminficstions it could have with regards to the Defence posture. I can still remember headlines of “45 minutes warning” from the early 2000’s.
    So a committee has heard evidence and reported its finding, that in about 18 months North Korea could possess technology at a suitably tested state that it could pose a direct territorial threat to he United Kingdom and, more widely her NATO allies and EU partners. They also discuss the growing Cyber threat.
    The committee chairman then goes and asks for upto 3% GDP to be spent countering the problem.
    Couple of things:
    The threat is not just countered by adding more money to the MoD budget. I am sure there will be blogs below talking about BMD for T45, land based BMD, BMD ready T26 and all kinds of toys but this needs to go hand in hand with the soft power that the U.K. is also very good at. When 3% is talked about as a target I would suggest that is a number across all government departments because they all have, limited or otherwise, a role to play.
    I would also suggest that a 2.5% target is a more politically palletable target, not to counter the perceived NK threat but to allow the MoD to regenerate itself as a force that is fit to fight in today and tomorrow’s combat arena.
    I would also hope that the report does make ministers and others think that if we are to spend circa £1bn on AAW destroyers spending a bit more to make them BMD capable is an easy quick win – they have the opportunity with PEP coming up to make the required software changes without effecting fleet requirements.
    NK requires an all round cross government approach – with The MoD providing the appropriate motivation stick to chivvy them along.
    HMG should also be investing in NATO technologies as well, NK doesn’t just affect us but the alliance as a whole, renewing and updating the E-3 fleet, making them BMD capable so they can fully integrate with U.K. and French air defence management systems to provide the early warning we would need if such an event (NK firing a ballistic missile at a target in Europe) were to take place
    3% across government, upto 2.5% in MoD (this includes removing CDEL liabilities for Future SSBN from MoD central budget) is a more palatable narrative that HMG can work with, 3% in the climate we are in just will not happen.

    • Morning Lee.

      I agree that 3% is too much to hope for.

      Does the Defence Select Committee have any influence whatsoever though with government?

      I’ve read their reports for many years and most recommendations fall on deaf ears.

      I personally think the UK should stay well out of this business with North Korea. As a P5 member of the UNSC we go like a moth to the light with any flashpoint in aid of the Americans.

      That’s fine if in a European theatre with NATO.

      The more we involve ourselves the more we become a target.

      That’s not to say I think we should not be prepared, but in a defensive posture as far as NK is concerned, not offensive, unless attacked ourselves.

      If we are attacked with cyber retaliate in kind.

      I also don’t believe Kim is stupid, he knows about MAD as much as the next leader.

      • I agree with this principle, the problem is if the Americans adopted the same principle Europe would be screwed as it has free loaded off the Americans to protect their sovereignty for decades.

        • The best thing for European defence would actually be the US leaving Europe imo, or at least reduce their commitments here massively.

          There is a lot of European countries who don’t spend enough on defence and as you pointed out have freeloaded of the US for decades.

          The money is there, European allies have a bigger GDP (ppp) than the US, and the second biggest in the world behind the US in nominal GDP.

          Manpower is there, European population is over 500 million.

          I do genuinely believe that if Europe was primarily defended by Britain, France and Germany, the 4th 5th and 6th largest economies in the world, each spending between 2% and 3% on defence, Europe certainly wouldn’t be screwed.

          Time for a wake up call for European powers to start investing in the defence of this continent.

      • I agree with all of that except maybe the last sentence. I suspect that with the cost and complexity of the weapons systems involved NOK is only ever going to have a handful of warheads not the sort of obliterate-the-planet arsenals that the USA and USSR had during the Cold War. As long as we don’t put ourselves directly in the firing line we are unlikely to get a NOK missile sent our way. Our exposure is also probably lessened by the fact that we would be at the extreme limits of range and so a more difficult target than something closer. NOK would want to maximise the success of a strike so I suspect would prefer a target within the first 75% of theoretical range rather than at a 95% limit (those numbers are just for illustration).

        Where I do disagree is to be too complacent that Kim will be sensible. The report also mentions the danger that NOK would have no qualms about exporting its technology and that would be attractive to it because they could sell it for a very high price. That would mean that maybe a very well funded terrorist group just might get hold of a nuclear capability, even if 5hat is then used for a dirty and/or planted bomb rather than an ICBM launch, and then things get a whole lot more messy. There I think our intelligence services, in cooperation with other countries, are the key players. Tactics such as the sting operations used during the Falklands War to keep Exocet resupplies and other spare parts out of Argentinian hands might well come into play again.

        Scary times!

  4. 3-3.5% needed.
    BMD via type 45s and land based versions.
    It is definetly time to cut the foreign aid budget and pump all of that money back into UK defence budget.
    Perhaps order an air defence variant of type 26 hull to supplement low numbers of type 45s but have the air defence type 26 optimised for fleet area defence and/or BMD.

    • 3-3.5% may be needed, but is completely unrealistic. If the foreign aid budget was cut, defence would be near the back of the queue for additional funding. 2.5% is still a big increase, and should solve most of the problems currently faced by our armed forces, namely equipment availability and manning. Admittedly it won’t leave much room for our dream fleets but it would be a start at least.

  5. Time to reappraise the UK’s Civil Defence manual? The likelihood of a non-Russian ballistic attack on the Uk, in my estimation, is higher than a Russian attack at the height of the Cold War? When the British people come to realize the true dangers from those rough nations, who have recently acquired nuclear missiles, they will want to see tangible action plans, cosmetic or otherwise.

  6. We actually need to get away from the whole 2% or 3% debate. The MOD/Armed forces (and other key national strategic assets) have been massively damaged by the short sighted and quite frankly childish way HMG government allocates funding and departmental budgets with annual settlements based on a mix of political dogma, what sells well with the medial and which minister of state has the most sway. At best this leads to irrational spending decisions and at worse the destruction of whole areas of strategic need (not just in defence, anyone like to guess how many thousands of trained nurses this county is short of and how many years it will take to even regenerate the training asserts needed to start to redress the gaps, aa an example it will take about a decade to turn a normal person into an ED charge nurse, capable of running a departmental shift and passing those skills on).

    What we need is to shift government spending into a different paradigm (Mr Hunt is an advocate of this). In which a rational budget is agree over a 5-10 year period based on what HMG wants a department to deliver.
    Hi
    When it comes to the strategically important All this crappy political dogma of “we,ve maxed out the credit card” or wouldn’t it be nice to…..” needs to end, no more boom and bust just this is what we must have to secure the future of the population of this country, for me that’s security of defence, health, education, transport, communications, energy, food, water and law and order. We must have strategic planning and security of fund for these in that the amount agreed to fund the activity must be found. Going back to the “maxed out credit card”analogy used by one chancellor as s reason to cut spending my response would be so what…. I would still find the money to pay the mortgage, gas, electric and water even if I had maxed out the cards. This county needs less flat screen TVs and more Drs, nurses, soldiers , sailors, ships and power stations….. rant ends. Sorry.

    • Whilst I agree with the overall sentiment of your post, I think it will be hard to achieve even if the current government decided upon it now. The majority for any spending bills to pass in parliament is very thin indeed and as can be seen by the various Brexit votes, they get heavily amended to appease 1 or 2 MP’s to ensure they pass.

      That being said, any MP who votes against increases in spending for the departments/ areas mentioned above would likely face a huge backlash from their constituents. The issues will arise where things like changes to foreign aid law so we can make cuts are voted upon.

      • Hi Steve

        Unfortunately the above is dependent on rational decision making and very honest conversations around exactly what is needed (vs wanted) and how much it costs and how it will be paid for. We do need our political classes to man up and tell the public the true picture/cost of must haves vs what is nice to have or what tax rate they would like.

        It also means that people need to trust what politicians and experts are saying ( which is difficult since the political classes are not known for the true and people are not willling to listen to messages they don’t like).

        We simply can’t have it all on a shoe string, then whinge when it goes wrong.

  7. The North Koreans fired their Hwangsong 15 last November 2017. It has a range over 13,000km which places Washington DC firmly within its reach. If the missile was fired west, The whole of the UK is within its reach, this was known about last year. However, what is more worrying is that it has taken parliament this long to acknowledge! The “experts” haven’t been able to state whether it carries only a single warhead or multiple.
    Because so many of NKs testing was done into the Sea of Japan and a couple went over one of their islands. The Japanese have bought AEGIS ashore which is currently being built. So it won’t be long until Japan tries to shoot one done if the NKs continue their test program.
    As I’ve ststed before we have the majority of a PAAMs ashore system already in place at Portsmouth. It just need the Aster 30 NTs to make it a complete system. This would be enough to cover Southern England. But you’d need at least another two systems to cover the rest of the UK.
    Perhaps it is time to invest and further develop the PAAMs ashore system to be not only a ballistic missile defence but also to defend against cruise missiles. However, for that to be a realistic defensive option it would need linking to our E3C Sentries to give over the horizon coverage.

    • What the Land Based Test Site at Portsdown Hill with the 2 T45 radar arrays?

      Is it really that simple?

      • Yes, up to a point. The site is used for training but also software development. To be a useful training asset it replicates the T45s PAAMs and has pretty much everything bar the missiles. The integration side of things for land would cost but as the majority of the development costs have already worked through with the systems integration on the ship it would not be massive. The radar has already proven its capabilities with search, acquisition and track with exercises with the USN in the Pacific but also during last years Formidable Shield off Scotland.
        Italy and France are actively developing a land based version of PAAMS called SAMP/T but are trying to develop the EMPAR radar instead of our Sampson specifically for BMD. They are also funding the development of the Aster 30 Block 2 BMD missiles. I believe the UK has also funded some of the development as there is the assumption that these will replace the standard Aster 30s as fitted to our T45s.
        Everything is available for using a landbased PAAMS as a BMD in the UK, it just needs funding and bringing together.

        • I’m not sure the Aster NT or the Aster BMD would be sufficient for these intercontinental missiles as they are being designed to intercept targets with ranges of 1500km and 3000km respectively. I think it might be better to join the US BMD programme as they already have SM-3 which can intercept targets over 5000kms range. The US are also making faster progress on other BMD capabilities.

          • As far as I’m aware the Aster the BMD programmes are there for theatre level protection not for ICBMs.

  8. A few things in this story don’t sit right with me.
    1) Why would NK lob a missile across the world when its beef is with the US/SK and to a smaller degree Japan.
    2) Yes I understand that the threat of Missile attack is a real one and not just from NK.
    3) The UK has never had a ABM system and the threat was even larger during the cold war.
    4) If NK used a nuke on the UK, then I am pretty sure that a parts of it would be glowing within a few days due to one of our Trident missiles.(Unless of course Labour is in power , who would be demanding that proof is required before they organise a twitter protest against Israel)
    5) If they used HE, then I’m pretty sure we can replace Trident in the post above for Tomahawk.

    • 1) Agree. No reason why they would unless we make them by getting involved and making enemies of ourselves.
      2) Of course.
      3) Correct. MAD is real.
      4) Agree, I would not trust Labour to defend anything whatsoever.
      5) Agree. But same as 1, why would they do that.

      For me the nation getting it in the neck big time if anything kicks off is South Korea.

      • Yes. NK cares a lot about national prestige, making the leader look glorious, etc. Because of that, if heaven forbid it did ever use long range missiles, it would want to maximise the chances of success and not have an embarrassing failure. Simply because of that fact I think, even though it might soon have the theoretical strike ranges being talked about here, the closer you are to NK the greater the danger of being a target.

        As mentioned, SK is first in the firing line and I would say Japan next. After that probably Australia and then if NK was willing to risk failure or missing the target and going for a really long shot the West coast of the USA would be a more enticing target or if it didn’t want to directly attack the USA then western EU countries would be slightly lesser range than the U.K. and if the missile goes off course less likely to result in an embarrassing (for NK) fall-into-the-sea miss.

        The U.K. seems to me to be a fair way down the target list for a NK strike even if/when it becomes in range.

        • I must agree that we are way down on the “Rocket Man’s” list of priorities and having read Earl Howe’s statement to the Select Committee that although there is no obligation put on us for helping ROK if the shit hits the fan he suggest that morally we would.
          The PAMMs system with the Block2 BMD Aster will be able to engage medium range ballistic missile as well as theatre. It should also be able to engage ICBMs when its in the terminal phase. There would still be concern of where the debris will land and if the nuclear material is still contained.
          I don’t think NK will have enough long range Hwansongs to swamp a defence like the major nuclear powers have, but then it only takes one to cause catastrophic casualties and damage.
          I still think we as a country should look to implement a PAAMs ashore system. Yes it may not be able to reach ICBMs when they are in the transit phase like SM3. But it is a start and very good foundation to build on.

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