These new mobile missiles have caught the attention of Washington and intelligence agencies in the West, and they are worried.
American intelligence agencies have discovered that North Korea is moving mobile missile launchers around the country. Some of these are carrying what the New York Times describes as a “new generation of powerful rocket,” called the KN-08. Although these new rockets are not yet thought to be operational, and American officials claim they may not be for some time, the discovery that the mobile unites have already been spread around the countryside where they are easily hidden has many within the White House, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies on edge.
This recent revelation has “spurred new assessments in the intentions of the country’s young new leader.” Kim Jong-un, who assumed power following the death of his father in December 2011, has talked openly about his desire for economic change, but he also appears to be accelerating the country’s attack capabilities. The pace at which North Korea is developing its missile capabilities has many questioning American defenses in the region.
The departing defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta spoke to American troops in Italy on Thursday. And as the Times reports,
[Panetta] broke from the usual Obama administration script — which is to write off North Korea as a broke and desperate country — and told American troops that he was increasingly worried about another, longer-range North Korean missile, one that was successfully tested last month and reached as far as the Philippines, and could lob a warhead much farther.
“Who the hell knows what they’re going to do from day to day?” Mr. Panetta said. “And right now, you know, North Korea just fired a missile. It’s an intercontinental ballistic missile, for God sakes. That means they have the capability to strike the United States.”
Pentagon officials have since said that Mr. Panetta had not intended to imply that North Korea could actually hit the continental United States, but both intelligence and military reports have claimed that Hawaii is within range of missile strikes. One administration official even said the test-flight of a long-range missile conducted last month by North Korea was, “largely a success, if you define success as showing they could drop a warhead a lot of places in Asia.”
The KN-08, which was first unveiled last April in a military parade and was basically written off as a fake, is considered to be an intermediate-range weapon with the capability of striking South Korea, Japan, and parts of Southeast Asia. The mobile launching trucks themselves are Chinese, and were almost certainly imported in direct violation of the sanctions placed by the United Nations against North Korea. The missiles, like almost all the others in North Korea’s arsenal, appear to be based largely on Russian technology.
Intelligence analysts point out that Kim Jong-un is aware of the focus of American spy satellites on his country, and some have speculated that the movement of the mobile launch units may be part of an intentional attempt to send a message to the US, or at the very least grab the attention of Washington. If this truly is a motivating factor behind the obvious movements of the missiles, it has been largely successful. Officials have said,
North Korea’s advancements in missile technology were among the most significant reasons that Mr. Panetta, as he approached the end of his tenure, had spent so much time in Asia. Much of his effort has been aimed at spurring the development of a regional missile defense system to be deployed with allies, particularly Japan and South Korea.
These recent missile developments can be added to the list of findings that have convinced officials in Washington that Kim Jong-un, who is the third generation to inherit the position of North Korean dictator, plans to continue the confrontational stance with the West that both his father and grandfather had. This is also clear based on the fact that any and all attempts at diplomacy from the current administration have been met largely with failure in the last four years.