Thursday, February 7, 2013

The North Korean ICBM Test-Launch of December, 2012

Probably the best analysis of the Dec 12 launch and the relationship between north Korea and Iran on missile sales.

The North Korean ICBM Test-Launch of December, 2012

By Bruce E. Bechtol Jr. Ph.D. at Angelo State University.

Dr. Bruce E. Bechtol Jr. is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Angelo State University and the current President of the International Council on Korean Studies.  His latest book, The Last Days of Kim Jong-il: The North Korean Threat in a Changing Era (Washington DC: Potomac Books) is scheduled for publication in April, 2013.

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Angelo State University or HRNK.

North Korea has successfully manufactured, tested, deployed, and proliferated SRBM's (Scud B through D and the "Extended Range" Scud), MRBM's (No Dong), and IRBM's (Musudan - which was sold to Iran in 2005 - 18 systems - and reportedly tested in 2006).   But despite tests of the Taepo Dong 1 in 1998, and Taepo Dong 2 in 2006, 2009, and April of 2012, until very recently, North Korea was unsuccessful in achieving the technology for a three-stage ballistic missile capable of hitting Alaska, Hawaii, or perhaps even the continental United States.  This all changed in December of 2012 - and those with an interest in the region should take note of this important advance in Pyongyang's ballistic missile program.   

By late November, 2012, the North Koreans were again showing signs that they intended to conduct a long-range missile test of the Taepo Dong system from their site at Tongchang-ni.  The first two stages of the missile were imaged sitting near the launch site.  In addition, several vehicles and fuel tanks were noted involved in activity that was assessed (correctly) as preparations for a test-launch.  The Pentagon immediately began activating global missile defenses in close collaboration with South Korea and Japan.   In early December, North Korean officials announced that a "satellite" launch would occur mid-month, and that issues with the April launch had been analyzed and fixed.  The North Koreans announced later that the launch would occur between 10 and 22 December, and parts from the rocket would not be a danger to countries in the region or elsewhere.   According to South Korean officials who were quoted in the press, the North Koreans may have used foreign scientists to help resolve some of the problems of previous long-range missile test launches - problems such as weak engine thrust.  North Korea may have used smuggled technology and/or rogue scientists from the Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, to fix problems that had plagued previous test launches of their long-range ballistic missiles.   

By December 3, 2012, North Korean technicians had placed the first of three stages of the Taepo Dong missile on the rocket pad.  According to data released by North Korean officials, the missile's first stage would fall into the Yellow Sea (West Sea), close to where the first stage was scheduled to fall from the missile during the April, 2012 launch.  It was announced that the second stage of the missile would come down in the ocean about 190 kilometers east of the Philippines.  U.S. and South Korean forces immediately increased their airborne and seaborne surveillance, including Aegis equipped ships and reconnaissance aircraft missions.  By December 4, 2012, the second of three stages had been placed on the launch pad, and by December 5, all three stages had been placed on the pad.  By December 6, the United States had deployed a floating, sea-based, "X-Band Radar" from Hawaii to the area, in order to track the North Korean test-launch.  The large, sophisticated radar is one of the key components of the U.S. BMD system.  By December 9, North Korea appeared to be experiencing "difficulties" with preparations for the launch.  The North Koreans may have swapped out components of the missile that were on the launch pad during this time frame - and even announced that the launch might be delayed (which it apparently was not).
(Continued at the link below)

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