North Korea Seen Advancing Work on ICBM Capable of Reaching U.S.

(Dec. 6) -  South Koreans pass by displays of models of North Korean missiles in June 2006. U.S. intelligence reportedly indicates the North is making progress in development of a road-transportable ICBM (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man).
(Dec. 6) - South Koreans pass by displays of models of North Korean missiles in June 2006. U.S. intelligence reportedly indicates the North is making progress in development of a road-transportable ICBM (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man).

North Korea is advancing efforts to construct an ICBM that could strike the United States, the Washington Times on Tuesday quoted the Obama administration as stating recently (see GSN, Feb. 13, 2009).

The weapon is also believed capable of being transported on roadways, which would make it more difficult to track with radars.

Obama officials discussed the information with House lawmakers in a November closed-door briefing. The intelligence was addressed in a letter in which five GOP representatives urged Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to prioritize developing national antimissile capabilities over European missile defense, according to the newspaper.

"As members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces ..., we write out of concerns about new intelligence concerning foreign developments in long-range ballistic missile development, specifically ballistic missiles capable of attacking the United States," the Nov. 17 document reads (see GSN, Nov. 22).

"We believe this new intelligence reiterates the need for the administration to correct its priorities regarding missiles defenses, which should have, first and foremost, the missile defense of the homeland," the Republican lawmakers wrote.

Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned in early 2011 that Pyongyang was within half a decade of wielding a long-range ballistic missile capable of striking the continental Untied States.

The Republican letter to Panetta did not single North Korea out as the developer of the new missile, but it referenced Gates' statements earlier this year about the North Korean ICBM threat.

Informed sources said government experts think the new road-mobile missile could be derived from the North's intermediate-range Musudan missile, which was first unveiled last October.

Separate information points to the new missile being built at the Stalinist state's enormous west-coast missile trial site at Dongchang-ri.

Road-mobile missiles are tricky for radars to monitor, which makes it easier for them to escape detection. They also can be readied and fired in a significantly shorter amount of time than missiles fired from fixed locations.

A February 2010 diplomatic dispatch leaked by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks said the United States believes Pyongyang has three options for constructing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The first would make use of the existing long-range Taepodong 2 missile, which the Times reported can travel a maximum distance of 9,300 miles. Other estimates have put the Taepodong 2's top range at slightly less than 5,000 miles.

A second path would be to extend the top traveling distances of other missile classes such as the Musudan. The third option would be to "use the very large launch facility that is being constructed on the west coast of North Korea to launch a very large missile," the cable stated.

The cable noted the new missile site at Dongchang-ri "is much larger than the Taepodong launch facility. This is not to say there is evidence of a new missile system larger than the Taepodong 2 being developed, but it suggests the possibility."

A separate leaked U.S. cable written in October 2009 said the intermediate-range Musudan missile was developed from designs for the Russian submarine-fired SS N6 missile, which can travel as far as 2,400 miles.

The GOP legislators urged Panetta to undo a Pentagon decision to scale back work on long-range land-based interceptors in order to focus on development of a European missile shield intended to counter ballistic missile attacks from the Middle East.

The Republicans also requested the Defense Department share its "hedging strategy" for responding to evolving missile dangers such as road-transportable North Korean ICBMs.

"In view of the briefing the subcommittee received this week, we do not believe the United States can afford further delay in the release of the hedging strategy by the Department of Defense," they wrote, urging that information on the strategy be provided before 2011 is over.

Pentagon official Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde referenced Gates earlier statements and said "specific information related to North Korea's development of road-mobile ICBM would be an intelligence matter, and it is our policy not to comment on intelligence matters" (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, Dec. 5).

December 6, 2011
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North Korea is advancing efforts to construct an ICBM that could strike the United States, the Washington Times on Tuesday quoted the Obama administration as stating recently.

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