North Korea is making progress on an intercontinental ballistic missile capable (ICBM) of delivering a first-generation nuclear warhead to the continental US, a leading US think-tank said yesterday.
The closely followed 38 North Web site of Johns Hopkins University’s US-Korea Institute said that ICBM mock-ups seen at recent military parades in Pyongyang were “less fake” than originally believed.
Numerous experts had widely ridiculed the models of the North’s road-mobile KN-08 ICBM seen last year and in July this year, with at least one respected aerospace engineer labeling them technically preposterous and a “big hoax.”
An analysis posted by 38 North disagreed, saying they were consistent with the ongoing development of a missile with a limited intercontinental ability using only existing North Korean technology.
“Elegant or not,” the mock-ups suggest an ability to assemble components and technologies to produce missiles with theoretical ranges of 5,500km to more than 11,000km.
“Almost all of the configurations examined would be able to deliver a light, first-generation nuclear warhead at least as far as Seattle [Washington],” it said.
The analysis was written by non-proliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis and aerospace engineer John Schilling.
The authors said that glaring discrepancies in KN-08 mock-ups displayed last year had largely disappeared at the July parade.
The new arrangement of welds and rivets was similar to that seen on recovered debris from the North’s Unha-3 carrier, which successfully placed a satellite in orbit in December last year.
In a separate paper published in Science and Global Security, Schilling said the KN-08 was still very much a missile in development.
“The lack of flight testing strongly suggests that operational deployment is still months or years in the future,” the engineer said.
Even with a successful test program, it would likely be unreliable, limited in mobility and performance, and available only in small numbers, he added.
Nevertheless, Lewis and Schiller said dismissing the mock-ups would be dangerous.
“The simplest explanation here is that the [KN-08] is exactly what it appears to be: A developmental road-mobile ICBM of limited capability, but still able to threaten the continental United States,” they said.
The South Korean Defense Intelligence Agency told parliament yesterday that Pyongyang had conducted five tests of long-range rocket engines this year.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been high since Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test this year, as evidenced by Seoul’s move yesterday to ban a left-wing South Korean political party because it is deemed to be pro-North.
South Korean Minister of Justice Hwang Kyo-ahn said a request to disband the Unified Progressive Party (UPP), which holds six seats in parliament and has contested presidential elections, would be submitted to the country’s Constitutional Court.
“We have concluded that the principles and objectives of the United Progressive Party are in line with North Korean-style socialism, which goes against the basic rules of free democracy,” Hwang told media. “The Cabinet meeting this morning approved of filing the request to disband the UPP.”
He said prosecutors had alleged that senior UPP members had plotted to “stage revolutions” against the government.
It was not clear whether South Korean President Park Geun-hye endorsed the move, but last year she said the views of two of its lawmakers were “dubious” and said they should not be allowed to serve.
The main opposition Democratic United Party denounced the move to ban the UPP as a threat to the South’s democracy, which has been developing since the late 1980s.
“It is very regrettable that this unfortunate incident is happening for the first time in the history of our constitution,” a spokesman said.