North Korea Preparing Missile Test

| February 11, 2009

Word has been circulating around national security focused sites that North Korea is preparing to test their home grown long range missile. According to reports, recent reconnaissance has shown components that look like parts of a Taepodong-2 missile being moved via rail to the North Korean rocket test site on the east coast. This facility is quite primitive in comparison to anything that the United States or even India would have.


Its position on the east coast of North Korea allows it to fire missiles eastward without having them be over (their) land, as well as giving them free access down range towards Japan. Likewise, there is some evidence that the port due south, a city named Kimchaek, is a primary shipping point for components and technology that North Korea sells to it’s customers such as Pakistan, Iran and others working on long range rocket programs.

Below is a detail image from Ikonos, showing the Musudan-ri missile test range. Note the rail line leading up to the assembly building. Also of note are the two villages within a few hundred yards of the launch complex. Any accident in assembly, testing or launch would likely be catastrophic for these people who have to find a way to eek out an existence in the shadow of this facility.


The Taepodong-2 is a 3 stage ballistic missile that likely shares quite a bit in common with the rocket Iran used (Shahab-5) to launch it’s first satellite earlier in 2009. There is quite a bit of evidence that Iran and North Korea are sharing developments and refinements in their rocket programs, and each country seems to leverage the other’s improvements.

If this new test follows previous North Korean launch tests, the rocket will fly eastward over Japan and splash into the Pacific several hundred miles down range. Should this happen the US media will amplify the notion that this missile could hit the United States. They will also mention (possibly in the same sentence) that the Norks are working hard to build nuclear weapons.

TD2 Flight Path.png

While this is a serious concern, the ability to build a nuclear device small enough to be boosted by a missile is not even conceivable in the near future for the North Koreans. Where this launch will resonate the most will be in Tokyo and Beijing.

In Tokyo this will be further evidence that they are no longer safe, and that they cannot count on the United States, in particular the untested Obama administration, to look after Japan’s interests. There will likely be further pressure on the government to continue a slow transition towards a re-militarization of Japan. While I am sure the rookies in the White House and Foggy Bottom won’t know anything about this, having Japan re-embrance is Bushido way is something we must try to prevent.

In Beijing, this will be a tremendous loss of face on one hand, and a very useful opportunity on the other. Beijing has played North Korea against Japan and the US, under the pretense that they can keep Kim in check. A Taepodong launch would underscore the reality that no one can control them. On the other hand, the rookies in Washington are likely to panic, and this could benefit China greatly.

The wild card in all of this is the US Navy. They have proven their ability to reach higher than anyone thought with their successful shoot down of USA-193 last year. If the Obama administration has the guts, they could very well direct the USS Lake Erie to take position and prepare to shoot any North Korean test launch out of the sky. This would effectively demonstrate the utility of the ballistic missile defense program, as well as the futility of the North Korean long range missile program. While this “cowboy diplomacy” was always a consideration under Bush, it would be quite unlikely today.

[Update] I neglected to call out the outstanding information available on on this subject, including this fantastic line drawing of the launch pad. (click picture for larger version) As well as additional exploited imagery and maps.


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Category: China, Geopolitics, Intelligence, Main, Military, Obama Administration, Space

About the Author ()

Bruce Henderson is a former Marine who focuses custom data mining and visualization technologies on the economy and other disasters.

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