American intelligence agencies discovered North Korea (DPRK) is currently in the process of transferring many mobile missile launching pads to different locations across the country, many of which are capable of launching a new generation of mobile missile, the North Korean KN–08.
The reports suggest that North Korea’s missile capabilities are advancing at a more rapid pace than once originally thought. With the successful launch of the Unha rocket last year, concerns are mounting that the DPRK will soon have intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities. Current US Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta expressed such concerns in comments delivered to reporters while he was in Italy:
Who the hell knows what they’re going to do from day to day? And right now, you know, North Korea just fired a missile. It’s an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), for God sakes. That means they have the capability to strike the United States.
Panetta reiterates concerns initially voiced by former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who surmised that North Korea could field a missile capable of reaching intercontinental targets by 2016. The intended use of the KN–08 is currently unknown. First appearing in a military parade in April 2012, the KN–08 has actually never been launched – yet most of its components, such as its motor, are or have been tested. The KN–08 is likely intended for other targets in East Asia, such as Japan and South Korea, but there is not any evidence as of yet that the missile is intended to drop a nuclear warhead. Trucks capable of launching the missile are of Chinese origin, in clear violation of United Nations sanctions against the DPRK, while the missile technology itself is Russian.
The DPRK’s missile programs have made the United States‘ regional allies, Japan and South Korea, amenable to a US-developed missile defense network. Japan currently possesses one American X–band radar, the AN/TPY–2. In an announcement last September with his Japanese counterpart, Leon E. Panetta said that Japan and the United States would deepen their commitment to building a robust missile defense shield in East Asia.
These developments are worrying for the international community that has so far failed in its attempts to lure North Korea away from its course of nuclear development. Also disheartening are attempts by Pyongyang watchers to find evidence that Kim Jong–un will be different from his father. With continued nuclear development, as well as pioneering new missile technologies, Kim Jong-un so far shows no signs of deviating from the tried-and-true formula that has sustained North Korea and kept its enemies at bay.