The Japanese Defense Ministry warned on Tuesday that North Korea is continuing work on a medium-range missile that could put Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam within striking range, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Oct. 13, 2010).
The ministry's annual white paper for the first time singles out the Musudan ballistic missile by name as a national security concern. The weapon is a variant of the Soviet submarine-launched R-27 missile and is intended to be fired from movable platforms.
Japanese defense officials placed the Musudan's flight range at between 1,500 and 2,500 miles. Previous news reports have estimated the missile's range at 1,860 to 3,100 miles. It is not known if the missile has ever been test-fired.
The United States has roughly 50,000 military personnel in Japan. It also has a significant military outpost on Guam, which is about 2,000 miles from North Korea.
The Musudan's flight range is shorter though than the North's long-range Taepodong 2, which reportedly is designed to reach the West Coast of the United States. There are continuing concerns that Pyongyang might ultimately prove able to wed a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile.
"Because of the secretive nature of the North Korean regime, it is extremely difficult to confirm its military intentions," the white paper says, continuing that the Stalinist state's underground and movable missile launch installations are thought to have been designed to evade initial detection.
The ministry paper did not specify when it anticipated the Musudan would go online or if it is presently in active service (Eric Talmadge, Associated Press/Google News, Aug. 1).
The Japanese Defense Ministry asserted that Pyongyang's ballistic missile and nuclear development activities were jeopardizing security in North Asia, Reuters reported.
"In particular, North Korea's nuclear tests ... are a serious threat to the safety of our country, and markedly harm the peace and stability of Northeast Asia and the international community. They can never be tolerated," the document states (Kiyoshi Takenaka, Reuters, Aug. 2).
Tokyo also singled out China's heightened maritime operations in waters close to Japan as a source of worry. The Defense Ministry said these worries are exacerbated by a lack of clear information from Beijing regarding efforts to update its armed forces, AP reported (Talmadge, Associated Press).
Beijing recently announced it was refurbishing an outmoded Soviet aircraft carrier and informed insiders said China was also constructing two more carriers, Reuters reported.
Japan believes that China is adopting strong-arm tactics to respond to regional disputes.
"Given the modernization of China's naval and air forces in recent years, its sphere of influence is likely to grow beyond its neighboring waters," the white paper states (Takenaka, Reuters).