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North’s Scud-ER can reach U.S. base in Japan

June 28,2016
North Korea can now hit the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, with its short-range Scud missiles, multiple sources in the South Korean military exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The revelation comes as South Korean intelligence has determined that Pyongyang’s extended-range missile, or Scud-ER, also known as the Hwasong-7, can travel more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), long enough to cover not only the Korean Peninsula but also U.S. military installations in Japan.

“North Korea imported the Soviet-made Scud-B missiles in the early 1980s through Egypt and has been constantly working to upgrade their specifications,” a senior military official said on the condition of anonymity.

“We previously assumed the Scud-ER, a modified version of the Scud-C, could fly about 700 kilometers. But our joint assessment with U.S. intelligence indicates that it can fly more than 1,000 kilometers.”

If the latest assessment of the Scud-ER is accurate, Pyongyang can add the short-range Scud-ER to a list of missiles it can launch to hit U.S. military bases stationed in Japan to prevent their deployment to South Korea in the event of conflict.

If launched from a frontline unit in the North’s Kangwon Province on a mobile launching pad, the Scud-ER can hit the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, which assumed a vital role in maintaining the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet during the 1950-53 Korean War and can serve as a springboard to dispatch U.S. forces, including a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, to the peninsula in time of war.

Japan already stated that Scud-ERs have a 1,000-kilomter range in a 2015 white paper. Another official noted that Tokyo might increase its estimated range for the Scud-ER range in this year’s white paper.

The prospect of Pyongyang having Scud-ERs with which to strike Japan, in addition to its Rodong missiles, is yet another headache for allies in the region that could force them to alter their perspective of the missile defense system.

“Among the various missiles North Korea has, Scuds are the most common,” said Shin In-kyun, head of the defense think tank Korea Defense Network. “It has over 600 Scuds.”

He said Pyongyang’s ability to hit Japan with Scuds will force Japan and the United States to “completely change their missile defense strategy” as it means the North has “an enormous number of missiles that can target Yokosuka other than the Rodong missile, which has a 1,300-kilometer range.”

North Korea is also thought to have been accelerating its efforts to miniaturize nuclear warheads so that it can mount them on top of Scud missiles, another official said.

“North Korea is consistently carrying out Scud launches that explode in midair in its pursuit of nuclear warhead miniaturization,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

If this is true, it indicates that Pyongyang is pursuing a missile system that can hit South Korea and Japan with nuclear-armed short-range Scuds.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]