As widely expected, North Korea unveiled an advanced long-range ballistic missile on Sunday, confirming that it has continued developing its warhead delivery capabilities at the expense of its starving people.
During the ceremony marking the centenary of the birth of the communist state’s founding father Kim Il-sung, it revealed an intercontinental ballistic missile that measures 18 meters in length and two meters in diameter.
Experts believe that the new missile appears to have a similar or longer range than the Taepodong-2 missile ― presumed to have a range of more than 6,700 kilometers, long enough to hit parts of Alaska, but still short of reaching the U.S. mainland.
“It is not a surprise that the North has the capability to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 2009, it fired off a long-range rocket, which can be called an ICBM, although it failed to put what it calls a satellite into orbit,” said Jeung Young-tae, senior researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification.
“At the time, it already showed off its capability. The new missile appears to be more advanced than the Taepodong-2 missile.”
Although the new missile has yet to be officially tested, experts believe that the North might have attempted to test it under the disguise of a “satellite launch” ― an pretext to lessen criticism from neighboring states including Japan and South Korea.
The fact that the missile was mountable on a truck also drew keen media attention. Unlike its fixed missiles, the new missile has a higher level of mobility, which means it can hardly be detected and can move to avoid attack.
In Sunday’s ceremony, the North showed 34 kinds of weapons whose total number reached some 880. In a 1992 ceremony that marked the 60th anniversary of the foundation of its armed forces, the North showed off 707 weapons and military pieces.
The longest-range North Korean missile under development is the Taepodong-2 missile. All two test launches of the missile failed in July 2006 and in April 2009.
Experts believed that in last week’s rocket launch, the North might have used the Taepodong missile. The multiple-stage rocket exploded just minutes after lift-off from its west coast launch site.
The longest-range North Korean ballistic missile, deployed since 2007, is the Musudan missile with a range of 3,000-4,000 km. This missile, in theory, brings Guam, the key U.S. strategic base in the Asia-Pacific region, within its range.
North Korea’s long-range missile capability has sparked calls here for revising the bilateral missile pact between South Korea and the U.S. The allies are currently discussing the revision.
Under a 2001 revision to the initial agreement, signed in 1979, Seoul is banned from developing ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers. It also stipulates that a payload must weigh no more than 500 kilograms, apparently to prevent the development of nuclear warheads.
With the ballistic missile ban, Seoul has instead focused on cruise missiles such as Hyunmoo-3C missiles with a range of 1,500 km. But cruise missiles are less powerful than ballistic ones and easily intercepted due to their slow speed.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)