International experts have concluded that the large new missiles North Korea unveiled with considerable fanfare at a recent military showcase were only mock-ups, the Associated Press reported on Thursday (see GSN, April 25).
The analysts' conclusions, coupled with the humiliating failure of the North's long-range Unha 3 rocket flight earlier this month, cast fresh doubt on Pyongyang's assertion this week that it possesses "powerful modern weapons" that can reach the United States.
The large new KN-08 missiles showcased during an April 15 parade in Pyongyang seem to be a hodgepodge of solid-propellant and liquid-propellant parts that would make any attempted launch a failure, according to AP. The missiles also differed in small ways from one another, despite purportedly all being one model. Ripples on the missiles' outer shell indicate the metal is not thick enough to stand up to the rigors of flight. In addition, the missiles were not properly designed for the launch platforms on which they were loaded -- vehicles suspected of incorporating Chinese technology.
Union of Concerned Scientists North Korea missile expert David Wright said it might be that the KN-08s are "somewhat clumsy representations of a missile that is being developed."
The international community took its first look at what would be the North's Taepodong 2 ballistic missile as a dummy system spotted in 1994, 12 years prior to its first test-firing, the physicist pointed out.
"To understand whether there is a real missile development program in place, we are trying to understand whether the mock-ups make sense as the design for a real missile. It is not clear that it has a long enough range to make sense for North Korea to invest a lot of effort in," Wright said.
The KN-08 is merely a distraction from the Taepodong 2, which continues to pose the greatest danger even if it will not be able to threaten the United States for 10 years or more, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Theodore Postol.
"I believe that these missiles are not only mock-ups, but they are very unlikely to be actual mock-ups of any missiles in design. Fabricating a missile like the KN-08 would require a gigantic indigenous technical effort," the ex-Navy adviser said. "The only way North Korea could develop such a missile with its pitiful economy would be if someone gave it to them."
Pyongyang is under a total weapons import ban imposed by the U.N. Security Council as punishment for the North's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
Postol pointed out that development of the Minuteman 3, the U.S. equivalent of the Taepodong 2, necessitated "decades of expertise in rocket motors, and vast sums of intellectual, technological and financial capital" (Eric Talmadge, Associated Press/Google News, April 26).
International experts have concluded that the large new missiles North Korea unveiled with considerable fanfare at a recent military showcase were only mock-ups, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.