North Korea moved an intermediate-range missile to a launch site on its east coast, South Korea’s defense minister said Thursday, as reports said the isolated and crumbling Communist state might be preparing a missile launch, either as a test or a strike again U.S. or allied forces.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told a parliamentary defense committee that the missile was believed to have “considerable” range, though it is not able to strike the U.S. mainland, independent news agency Yonhap reported.
“The missile does not seem to be aimed at the U.S. mainland,” Mr. Kim told lawmakers. “It could be aimed at test firing or military drills.”
He said U.S. and South Korean intelligence had not seen evidence of preparations for a full-scale invasion, like the movement of supply units or other rear echelon troops.
CNN, citing unnamed U.S. officials said communications intercepts in recent days suggested that the North was planning to launch a mobile ballistic missile, either as a military strike, or as a test, perhaps to celebrate the upcoming, mid-April birthday of the nation’s founder Kim Il-Sung, grandfather of the current ruler Kim Jong-Un.
According to Yonhap, Mr. Kim the South Korean defense minister dismissed media reports that the missile moved Thursday was a KN-08, an untested, road mobile solid fueled projectile believed to have a range of 10,000 kilometers — which would make it capable of hitting Alaska, Hawaii and even the West coast of the continental United States.
The range he described apparently refers to another North Korean mobile missile known as the Musudan, which according to some estimates can reach 2,000 miles. That would put the U.S. territory of Guam just in range, along with Japan and South Korea — and U.S. bases in both countries — but experts have doubts about the missile’s accuracy.
The moves follows the U.S. announcement Wednesday that it was moving anti-ballistic-missile defenses to Guam to counter what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called “a real and clear danger and threat to the interests” of the United States and its allies.
In a statement Tuesday, the General Staff of the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) told state-controlled media in Pyongyang that the military was “formally inform[ing] the White House and the Pentagon” that U.S. threats would be “smashed by… cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means.”
“The merciless operation of (our) revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified,” the statement said.
“The location of the missile on the east coast and the repeated mention of bombers from Guam (in the KPA statement) provide some basis for concern that Guam could be a target,” said veteran military intelligence analyst and Asia-watcher John McCreary.
Mr. McCreary, who now works for Kforce Government Solutions, argued that because North Korea learns of deployments like the anti-missile defenses in Guam or last week’s F-22 raptor stealth fighters, through the news media, they are very alarming to Pyongyang.
“They have no way to detect the most dangerous weapons with which the United States can attack them, no way to get any warning,” he said. “That is very scary for them.”
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed Obama administration officials, reported Thursday that the deployments in Guam, like the earlier moves of the F-22 and the nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bomber, had been deliberately telegraphed as part of a “playbook” of successive announcements designed to warn and deter North Korea.
But Mr. McCreary said that, if that was indeed the strategy, it wasn’t working.
“The announced moves are not deterrent to the North Koreans, they are provocative and escalatory,” he said.