back to article Japan scores ballistic missile shootdown bullseye

Japan has become the second nation to acquire functioning ballistic-missile defence equipment, carrying out a successful shootdown yesterday. A target rocket representing a medium-range enemy missile was engaged and destroyed 100 miles above the Pacific by a Standard SM-3 interceptor fired from a Japanese warship, JS Kongo. The …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    the article: so-so. The 1st "related link": PRICELESS!

    The "Yes! It's the the wireless USB Missile Launcher" link definitely scores high on the list of related links! El Reg should be proud to be the first to field such high-tech weaponry.

  2. Herby

    Defense is SO simple...

    Just arm everyone with the USB wireless rocket shooters. Zillions of those at an enemy ought to do something.

    I'm reminded about a small joke relating to Chinese defense during the cold war, where one top official said to another: "Well, if all billion of us yelled 'boom' at once that ought to scare 'em".

    If only it would work...

  3. Richard Simpson

    ICBMs fly too high?

    Hmm, perhaps I am missing something here, but surely ICBMs only fly high for part of their journey. Surely, they have to come down to lower altitudes at the end of their flight, otherwise, they won't do anything useful? Now, I don't doubt that shooting down ICBMs is more difficult, but perhaps it is because they go faster? After all, if they go higher up and they had a bigger rocket to start with then it seems logical that they will be going faster by the time they get near the ground.

    This all reminds me of an article by George Orwell in which he mocks pre-WW2 newspaper articles explaining that there is no threat from German bombers because anti-aircraft defences would force them to fly too high. The idea presumably being that if you drop a bomb from high enough then it won't reach the ground :-)

  4. John


    The newspaper articles were assuming that turboprop aircraft wouldn't be able to go above the anti-aircraft defenses. The B-17 had/has a ceiling of about 35k ft, so would take some AA with considerable thrust to catch them up.



  5. laird cummings

    @Richard Simpson; ICBMs fly too high?

    ICBMs are exo-atmospheric for most of their trajectory, far beyond the reach of the SM-3. They'd only come into range in the terminal stage of their flight, after having "MIRV'd," which is by far the most difficult engagement regime. To start, each missile might be carrying 5, 8, or even 10 warheads. Those warheads are all falling at the same time, from the same altitude, but on different trajectories, meaning you would need possibly up to ten launchers to even think of a completely successful engagement. Or one shooter that can recycle *really* fast.

    Next, those warheads (or even singular warhead) are falling fast - Terminal velocity for a heavy, aerodynamically-slick object falling from space is... what? I dunno, but it's *fast.* So fast, indeed, that the warheads glow on reentry. Is anyone going to pot those warheads with what is basically a souped-up anti-aircraft missile? Not bloody likely.

    The best place to blast an ICBM is before it launches. Failing that, you want to nail it in boost phase. Failing that you want to nail it in coast phase. Once it reaches terminal (reentry) phase, you're pretty much screwed. Even the US Sprint interceptor missile plan from the early Cold War relied upon super fast interceptors armed with NUKE warheads to knock off the incoming warheads, because that was the only way to get a meaningful chance at an interception.

    The SM-3 may be the bee's knees against SRBM and MRBM, but against a proper ICBM, well... better hope Boeing makes that raygun work.

  6. lglethal Silver badge

    @ ICBM's fly to high

    It's not just the speed that they fly at that is a problem with ICBMs, which is the total of the vector of the initial forward velocity they were given combined with acceleration from gravity (which means that unless you hit them near the top of their arc they're travelling very bloody fast!) but most ICBM's carry large numbers of anti-counter measures. The most basic of which is a series of large decoys that fall around the ICBM which mean that the anti-ICBM missile has to pick out which one is the ICBM out of 10+ targets, thus decreasing the chance of the missile being intercepted.

    On top of this by the time the ICBM has dropped in height enough to be targeted by a regular (non-space capable) missile then it is more then likely already well over your nation, so blowing it up will tend to cause an even greater amount of debris and explosive (possibly radioactive) material over a larger area. Its a lose-lose situation - defintely kill everybody in a certain radius by letting the missile through or kill 50% of people over twice to 3 times the original radius...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please remember: this is a post boost weapon

    The SM3 is *not* for terminal defense, it's a "post-boost" weapon. It is designed to knock down missiles once they have left the atmosphere but before they travel to their reentry point using it's 4th stage, "LEAP" type interceptor. Although the window in which to hit ICBM's is obviously much shorter, and the missile will have a shorter effective range, it is equally applicable to ICBM's and IRBM's.

  8. stuart ward
    Black Helicopters

    so what about the 45 mins

    I note Spain has aquired this technology, I wouldn't have thought they would be within SCUD range of anyone capable of launching such devices who was hostile. Do they know something we don't?

    If so why haven't we bought it if Tony was right about the 45 minute warning?

  9. Mark Menzies

    How fast?

    "Next, those warheads (or even singular warhead) are falling fast - Terminal velocity for a heavy, aerodynamically-slick object falling from space is... what? I dunno, but it's *fast.*"

    Give us a clue in either sheep or welshmen please....

  10. Tim

    @John, turboprops

    <pub_bore class=pedant>

    I think you mean just "prop", as in conventional, reciprocating piston-driven prop aircraft. Turboprops are a post-WW2 development of the jet engine which couple a turbine engine to a conventional propeller via a shaft. They are used today by virtually all propeller driven commercial aircraft as they are considerably more reliable, economical and powerful than conventional piston engines.

    The Wright Cyclone radial engine used in the B-17 was turbocharged, though - the forced induction allows the engine to run well in the very thin air at 37,000'. Without the turbo compressing air into the cylinders the engine would produce steadliy less power as it climbed and the plane would struggle past 15,000'.


    (Really not keen on starting work today!)

  11. Ross

    Defending whom?

    Ah, so the Japanese have *paid* the Americans for kit which will be used to defend *America* from possible North Korean missile attack? Obviously the actual missile they're buying is pretty much useless, but the tracking gear will do very nicely for the Yanks, sat between them and North Korea.

    Does it concern anyone else that America see the rest of the world as just some real estate on which to plonk military hardware for their own protection?

  12. weirdcult


    Yes Ross it does.

  13. laird cummings

    @ Various


    Most of your post was right on. However, the bit where you talk about the results of a hard kill on a nuclear warhead are laughably far wrong. Whilst the radioactive material in a warhead is a health concern, you could walk around carrying the warhead material in a lunch box for a month and recieve no lasting injury. *If* you managed to absolutely powder the warhead's fissile material, and *if* all that material ened up on arable or occupied land, you *might* be talking a few hundreds, maybe a thousand or two, additional deaths from cancer over a human lifetime in the affected area. Hardly nice, but not even remotely close your doomsday pronouncement.

    @Mark Menzies;

    Well, a re-entry vehicle has a very high initial velocity, and the best numbers I can find give a value of Mach 10 (plus or minus a Mach) at impact, with the RV still decellerating all the way to impact (i.e. It never has a chance to slow to terminal velocity before it goes "BOOM").

    That's roughly 0.1135 x the maximum velocity of a Vacu-Sheep, or approximately 29766053 Brontosaur per Fortnight.


    Have you missed that bit where the North Koreans have fired MRBMs right *over* the nation of Japan? This bit of kit is far more applicable and pertinent for the Japanese than it is for Amercia - The North Koreans *might* one day be able to threaten the US. Japan is at risk already. Do try to keep your prejudices from clouding your mind.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    North Korea hates Japan and the Japanese know that

    North Korea still holds a grudge against Japan for what they did before and during WWII so they have full justification for buying into this system to protect themselves. As it is NK can already plop a bomb with who-knows-what-kind-of-warhead anywhere in Japan and this can maybe stop that.

    As for the defense system doing nothing to defend America I can tellyou, having been stationed in Okinawa for over 2 years, that many thousands of Americans live there as well as on mainland Japan and are also within reach of NK's missiles.

  15. F Seiler

    @stuart ward

    If i understand the article right, spain only has the aegis tracking system, not those missiles. You can do a lot of actually interesting stuff with such a system (as opposed to star wars), you know. Like studying bird movements, or in the case of spain maybe finding immigrant boats.

  16. Brian
    Thumb Up

    @ John and Richard Simpson

    I have to add my 2 cents.

    Orwell was technically correct...enough AA would keep bombers from being effective for a few reasons. The first (and more myopic) is that enough AA would cause so much havoc with the bomber formations that Germany would not have been able to field an effective flight of aircraft if, say, they were losing 50-100 craft and crews at a throw. Technically true, but then how much AA would be enough to effect this result? Obviously, more than Britain had in its standing defense force, and even that was probably less than a 1/10 of what would be necessary to bring those kind of numbers about. England would have had to have been encrusted with AA from the coast to the middle of strategic population centers such that inbound aircraft would be getting hammered all the way in and all the way out.

    As it was, there was a fair amount of artillery, but located in concentrations relatively close to the cities they were defending. The standing Air Corps had to take up the slack with very few aircraft relative to the early German inbound filghts. Thus, Germany sends planes in, but are losing too few to justify suspending operations, continuing a bombing campaign for several years. That is parts of the economics of warfare that Orwell apparently didn't reconcile.

    As far as service ceilings, you are technically correct. The problem was that aircrews typically flew far below those ceilings for several reasons. German aircraft, good as they were, were usually designed as multirole aircraft. As such, few were actually flown below their optimum configuration. Plus, in the case of Germany, they relied primarily on twin engined aircraft which are very subject to the laws of ballistics and smaller in bombload, thus needing far more aircraft to do the same job of a Lancaster or B-17 detachment. Had Hitler approved construction of high-altitude heavies early on, things could have been a whole lot worse (if one could even imagine that) for the inhabitants of Britain.

    All that aside, the primary reason that aircraft operated below the threshold that would have put them out of reach of flak (and most fighters) was that although the Norden bombsight and others could calc the physics of falling bodies at any altitude/speed...the bombs had troubles hitting home even at 10-15 thousand feet. The reason was not known until after WWII. The physics of falling bodies was tight, but those in know had no idea that the "jet stream" existed, much less that winds often change direction significantly every 5-10 thousand feet. In fact, the Lancastrian that smacked the mountains in Chile in 1948 (maybe Peru), the aircrew flew in on-off poor visibilty and ended up plotting course by compass and airspeed. They knew they had the altitude, however when they plotted for calc airspeed, the came up 100+ miles short and started their descent straight into the mountains they thought that they had flown over. What they didn't know was they were flying into a severe headwind caused by the jet stream.

    High altitude bombing was considered the best bet early on in the war, but was wildly ineffective even with huge formations. I have read several accounts where the accuracy of bombing campaigns was calculated as low as 8% and and "high" as 25% on good days. Actual effects on the bombs were not calculated as they fell towards earth simply because no-one knew there were effects to be calculated outside the physics of the blackboard. To sum up, when accuracy had to be maintained, the operation ceiling of the group generally lowered. Because of the inherent problems of getting it in the pickle barrel, you have huge formations to carpet bomb high value targets instead of a few super-accurate bomb strikes made by a few aircraft. As such, one can see why '17s, '24s and Lancs were getting plinked throughout the war. Even the Superfortresses during WWII and Korea were suffering the same fates (much of it was due to the plane itself) though they were constructed to fly very high and very fast out of the reach of everything...but their bombs hit targets more out of pure luck at those heights than for any other reason.

    I'll shut up now. Just had to throw my 2 cents in. I should keep those pennies though....they are becoming more valuable for their metal compostion than their face value.

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