From today's Asia-Pacific edition of the International Herald-Tribune comes this (slightly) breathless headline:
Japan says North Korea developing new long-range missile
According to the accompanying AP article--based on information from the Japanese Defense Ministry--Pyongyang is working on a "new" ballistic missile, capable of hitting targets as far away as Guam. The new weapon, dubbed the Musudan, is supposedly more advanced than North Korea's existing inventory of SCUD, No Dong and Tapeodong missiles.
We hate to be the bearers of bad news for the folks at the IHT, but this information is hardly new. In fact, we've been writing about this "new" North Korean missile for more than a year. Musudan is another name for the BM-25, the land-based intermediate range missile developed from Russia's SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile. Pyongyang has already sold the BM-25 to Iran, giving Tehran the potential to strike targets throughout the Middle East and in portions of the Asian subcontinent and southeastern Europe as well.
As we noted more than 15 months ago, the SS-N-6 represents dated, but proven technology. Both North Korea and Iran have had difficulty in developing indigenously-developed, longer-range missiles; acquisition of the BM-25 gives them a proven airframe that was designed specifically to carry a nuclear warhead. Obtaining the BM-25 will save a lot of time and effort in research and development, particularly in mating early-generation nuclear warheads to a missile airframe.
Interestingly, while both North Korea and Iran have acquired the BM-25, there have been no reports of test launches (to date). Intelligence sources suggest that a Musudan launch vehicle (with a missile or missile simulator onboard) was in the area prior to last July's test of a Tapeodong-2 ICBM. North Korea's decision not to launch the BM-25 at that time suggests that there may be some developmental problems with the MRBM, which were supposedly "de-nuked" before Moscow sold them to Pyongyang.
Previous posts on the BM-25 program:
Building a Nuclear Capability
Iran's New Missiles
The Limits of Technology
The New Threat to Russia
If At First You Don't Succeed
Additionally, readers will note that the story about the "new" threat came after various Japanese officials stressed the need for the U.S. and Japan to boost missile defenses. And, there's nothing like a "new" threat to bolster your case, even if the threat really isn't new.