+ A

North’s missiles could deliver nukes: Report

June 08,2019
An American expert on nuclear proliferation on Wednesday released a report saying the missiles tested by North Korea early last month could deliver a “nuclear weapon-sized payload” within a range that could cover much of South Korea.

Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Institute, said in a report that the short range missiles tested by Pyongyang in two “firepower drills” on May 4 and 9 were indigenous adaptations of Russia’s Iskander-M systems, equipped with a “quasi ballistic trajectory designed to defeat missile defenses.”

Shortly after the tests, the United States Forces Korea (USFK) named the missiles in question as KN-23, based on its system to identify new missiles and rocket launchers used by Pyongyang. KN stands for “Korea, North” while 23 refers to the fact that the missile is the 23rd type of new missile to be identified by the U.S. military.

Lewis wrote that the missiles, first displayed in a military parade in Pyongyang in February 2018, contains a solid fuel motor similar to the Iskander, and may have been tested in October 2017.

A forensic analysis of satellite images from the May tests by CNS showed that the missiles have the capacity to deliver a payload of up to 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) within a range of 420 kilometers (260 miles), enough to reach “most targets in South Korea, including the U.S. military hub at Pyongtaek,” the report said.

“The KN-23 is a ballistic missile, although it is designed to fly a depressed trajectory [sometimes described as quasi-ballistic or aero-ballistic] that shortens its flight time, allows it to fly under the view of some radars, and enhances its ability to maneuver,” the report added.

The missile also is visibly different from the Iskander, the report said, and appears to be deliberately designed to make the system capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads.

While the CNS report was a preliminary analysis, its results corroborate some of the more dire assessments of the tests coming from some U.S. officials, though the administrations in both Seoul and Washington have been conservative in condemning the launches lest Pyongyang withdraws completely from negotiations over its denuclearization.

Figures like John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan have said the short range missile launches were violations of UN Security Council resolutions, which ban any tests by North Korea of weapons using ballistic missile technology.

Their words were in direct contradiction to comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump, who last Wednesday said he believed the North’s missile launches were attempts to “get attention” before stressing his continued faith in the possibility of an ultimate deal with Pyongyang.

Trump also said earlier that he viewed the tests “differently” from some of his advisers, and that he did not see them as a violation of the UN resolutions.

North Korea’s tests of the weapon in May were likely aimed at sending a message to Trump, as the president noted, and it has also been ratcheting up its rhetoric toward the United States, hinting that it may end its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry again issued a verbal threat to Washington via the state media agency Korea Central News Agency, saying there was a “limit to [Pyongyang’s] patience” and that the “U.S. should duly look back on the past one year and cogitate about which will be a correct strategic choice before it is too late.”

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]