New intelligence indicates that North Korea is moving ahead with building its first road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, an easily hidden weapon capable of hitting the United States, according to Obama administration officials.
The intelligence was revealed in a classified Capitol Hill briefing last month. Its existence was made public in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta from five House Republicans.
“As members of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces …, we write out of concerns about new intelligence concerning foreign developments in long-range ballistic missile development, specifically ballistic missiles capable of attacking the United States,” the Nov. 17 letter said.
“We believe this new intelligence reiterates the need for the administration to correct its priorities regarding missile defenses, which should have, first and foremost, the missile defense of the homeland.”
Officials familiar with the intelligence said government analysts believe the missile could be a variant of North Korea’s new Musudan intermediate-range missile, first disclosed publicly in October 2010.
Other intelligence indicates that the new ICBM may be under development at a huge missile testing facility on North Korea’s western coast.
Prior to its mobile ICBM, North Korea’s long-range missiles were the pad-launched Taepodong-1 prototype, and the Taepodong-2 (TD-2) dual-use ICBM and space launcher. The TD-2 was test-launched in April 2009.
Mobile missiles are difficult for tracking radar to locate, making them easier to hide. They also can be set up and launched much more quickly than missiles fired from silos or launchpads.
China’s military recently deployed two new mobile ICBMs, the DF-31 and DF-31A. It is not known whether North Korea’s new mobile missile is based on Chinese technology. China in the past has provided missile technology to North Korea, a fraternal communist ally.
The first indications of Pyongyang’s new mobile ICBM were made public in June by Robert M. Gates, who was defense secretary at the time.
After a speech in Singapore, Mr. Gates said, “With the continued development of long-range missiles and potentially a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile and their continuing development of nuclear weapons, … North Korea is in the process of becoming a direct threat to the United States.”
The new intelligence was discussed during a closed-door briefing in mid-November for the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces and discussed in the letter to Mr. Panetta. The letter did not say specifically that the missile was North Korean, but it quoted Mr. Gates on Pyongyang’s mobile ICBM development.
The letter was signed by Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, and subcommittee Republican Reps. Mike Rogers of Alabama, Trent Franks of Arizona, Doug Lamborn of Colorado and Mac Thornberry of Texas.
Congressional aides declined to comment on the intelligence.