Trike: The little missile that could
It is a cool night, toward the end of August. Yet scientists are sweating in their temperature-controlled bunker just outside of Najin in the extreme northeast section of the country. Engineers are making last-second adjustments on control panels as mathematicians wring new computations out of the huge computer that is stored in a vault below the building. The room is filled with generals from various armed services, one of whom is on an open line with Beloved Leader Kim Jong-Un.
Four of the television monitors around the large room all zero in on a bank of missiles, located on a launch pad nearly two kilometers away. Nose cones containing miniaturized nuclear weapons can be seen above the steam that seems to bounce off the fortified concrete surface and stream into the dark sky. Other monitors deliver images from installations at Undok, near the northern border, and Chongjin, on the coast and south of the launch site. These monitors will give the scientists a parallax view of missiles as they leave the pad and attempt to achieve escape velocity.
When the signal comes from the Beloved Leader, lives will be on the line. The scientists, engineers, and technicians know this. So do the generals. Beloved Leader has been challenged by the whiny orangutan in Washington, D.C., and failure to achieve the goal is unacceptable. The problem is that the chore that has been assigned to the men and women at Najin has never been accomplished, let alone even attempted, before.
The attack will consist of coordinated launchings from both land and sea. This complicates the calculations for the mathematicians because different guidance systems will be in use. Also, the distances to the ultimate targets vary. The NORAD base in Alaska is to be hit at the same time as the SAC installation at Castle AFB in Merced and the financial center in Chicago.
There are two of each class of missiles poised for take-off. The intercontinental ballistic missiles and the intermediate-range missiles are on the launch pad. The surface-to-air weapons, clones of the U.S. Sea Sparrow, will take off from ships nearly 500 kilometers off the coast. And two Trident-type projectiles are aboard submarines that are lurking in the north Pacific. Each launch site has its own objectives.
Beloved Leader watches the Great Orangutan flex his vocal chords on CNN from monitors that gather signals from international communications satellites. The orange version of the Pillsbury Doughboy is holding a 7 iron in his hand and telling Wolf Blitzer that he can hit a golf ball farther than North Korea can fire a missile. The image shifts to Dana Bash who tells Wolf that her sources at the Pentagon believe that North Korea is incapable of waging war against a superpower. Cameras cut to Christiane Amanpour who says that the Senate Intelligence Committee does not believe that Kim has found a way to set his miniaturized nuclear warheads into a functioning missile.
In Pyongyang, Kim fumes at the audacity of the American intelligence community’s assessment of his prowess. Members of his advisory council sit silently, awaiting direction from their benevolent despot. The only young man, probably in his late teens, ogles the image of Brooke Baldwin who is sitting a bit to the left of Jim Sciutto on the monitors. He doesn’t hear his uncle’s command.
Cabinet members are shuffling into the Oval Office as a White House aide switches channels back and forth between Fox and CNN. Suddenly, all screens fade to black. In a few seconds, CNN is back, but the set is empty. As Secretary of Everything Jared Kushner materializes and is about to speak, Chris Cuomo appears on screen from a station in New York. He is uncharacteristically disheveled and shouting, “They’ve launched! They’ve launched!”
In Najin, the group in the bunker holds its collective breath as the first of the missiles begins to level off. Others are still heading for outer space. But, at least they’re all airborne. The scientists exhale tentatively, but the generals — who know what fate will accompany failure — begin to turn red in their jowls as they watch Trike, the smallest of the missiles head toward Vladivostok in Russian airspace. Trike was the name given to the KimKimKim rocket, and it was the alternative to its Triple K or Tri-K designation.
As Trike swings eastward, it focuses in on Magadan. Technicians who are listening to the missile can hear tiny Trike singing, “Magadan, I think I can. I think I can. Magadan.” As it passes over Siberia, it continues its chant, “I think I can, I think I can.” Its nose tilts slightly to the east and the message that is sent back to Najin goes, “I see Nome; I’m heading for home. I think I can; I think I can.”
CNN in Atlanta and the White House in D.C. seem to be paralyzed, a response that was anticipated by the military leaders who organized the U.S. Defense Response System at various locations within and surrounding the nation. Antiballistic missiles are in the air before the first blips appear on radar screens. The first Korean weapon is taken down over the North Pacific eight minutes after launch. The others soon follow. Except for Trike.
Technicians in Najin listen intently as Trike turns south and streaks across Alaskan skies. Within minutes, the chant starts again: “Hey, Hey, Hey; there’s Horsehead Bay. I think I can; I think I can.” Making a planned evasive maneuver, the missile soon passes over San Juan Island, then veers to starboard. A minute later, its signal changes, “I’ll not fail ya’; I see Centralia. I think I can; I think I can.” Within seconds, Trike sounds again: “I’m nearing the end; coming up on Bend. I think I can; I think I can.” A minute later, it sings: “I’m on the right heading, passing over Redding. I think I can; I think I can.” Almost immediately, the chant becomes: “Now over Galt; I shall not halt. I think I can; I think I can.”
Apparently, the Koreans are unaware that the SAC base in the San Joaquin Valley closed in 1995. The joke’s on Kim. Ha-ha. Trike lowers its nose. It’s electronic fuse begins the countdown.
Today’s column is a work of fiction.