Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What We Know

Here's a brief recap of what we know so far, concerning yesterday's missile launches by North Korea. Definitive analysis will take longer, as we sort through data collected by various sensors.

--So far, Pyongyang has fired a total of seven missiles, a mixture of short-range SCUD Cs, medium-range NO DONGs and of course, the long-range TAEPODONG-2. Initial analysis suggests that North Korea may have launched up to four NO DONGs and two SCUDS, in addition to the TD-2. The long-range missile, which failed less than a minute into its flight, was the third missile fired in a four-hour window by the DPRK.

--The TD-2 launch was surprising in at least one sense: it took place in the pre-dawn hours of 5 July (Korean time). Analysts had assumed that the TD-2 test would occur during daylight hours, when visual observation and optical tracking conditions would be optimum.

--The number of NO DONG and SCUD launches was also a bit unusual, although some experts believed that the TD-2 event might be part of a larger "firepower" demonstration. While at least two of the launches were near-simultaneous, the rest were staggered through the pre-dawn and early morning hours of 5 July. The launches were easily tracked and identified by U.S. intelligence.

--There were no apparent efforts to engage the TD-2, which failed in the early stages of its flight. Cause of the failure remains unknown.

--It is unclear if any foreign VIPs or observers were in North Korea for yesterday's event. If foreigners were present, the TD-2 failure would prove especially embarassing, particularly if Pyongyang was trying to market the missile to other nations.

--North Korea probably has the ability to mount another TD-2 test over the short term; however, in light of yesterday's failure, such an effort is considered unlikely. The setback for the TD-2 program is probably measured in years; there was an eight-year gap between the failed 1998 TD-1 test and yesterday's event; it may be even longer before NK attempts another long-range missile test.

--Perhaps the "real" story from Tuesday's event is not the TD-2 failure, but rather, NK's ability to marshal, conceal and launch a significant number of short and medium-range missiles, with minimal intelligence warning. That possibility underscores the difficulties associated with tracking (and potentially targeting) mobile missiles.

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