U.S. commander says threats from Pyongyang increasing
BY: Bill Gertz
April 20, 2016 5:00 am
North Korea’s first attempt to test-launch a new intermediate-range missile last week failed after the Musudan blew up shortly after launch, causing a huge fireball that damaged the mobile launcher, according to American defense officials.
“We’re still assessing the specifics of it but I can tell you that it was a fiery, catastrophic attempt at a launch,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Friday. “It was not successful.”
The test failure on Friday represents a setback for North Korea’s largely untested long-range nuclear missile forces that include launch pad-based Taepodong-2 missiles, and two road-mobile systems, the KN-08 and Musudan. The Pentagon last month also confirmed that a newer long-range mobile missile, the KN-14, was unveiled during a recent military parade. North Korea also is developing submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
U.S. strategic defense surveillance systems, both airborne and space-based, closely monitored the Musudan test and videotaped the explosion during the attempted launch from a beach on North Korea’s east coast.
In addition to damaging the launcher, the explosion may have injured or killed North Korean missile technicians near the site.
Two road-mobile Musudan launchers were set up for the test, but the second was not fired after the explosion, officials familiar with reports of the launch said.
The missile is estimated to have a range of up to 2,500 miles, enough to hit the western Pacific island of Guam, a key strategic military base in the Pentagon’s new pivot to Asia.
Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, nominee for commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the North Korean missile program is advancing despite testing and other problems.
Asked by Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) about North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, Brooks said: “At the present time, Senator, I think that they’re struggling with getting the program up and operational.”
“But it’s very clear through the parades that they’ve done, what systems they have and some of the attempted launches that they have not had success in, over time, I believe we’re going to see them acquire these capabilities if they’re not stopped,” the four-star general said.
One diplomatic source familiar with reports of the test failure said the likely cause of the explosion, which occurred within five to six seconds after launch, was a faulty fuel system or turbo pump failure.
The Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile is an indigenous variant of the Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile, known by Moscow as the R-27, that the North obtained covertly from Russia sometime in the 1990s.
The missile blew up about 300 feet above the ground.
“The North Koreans seemed to just believe it would succeed because the R-27 SLBM of former Soviet Union was one of the most tested nuclear warhead delivery systems ever produced, and North Korea had already done a lot of ground tests,” the source said. “However, a real launching test is totally different from the ground test.”
Western intelligence agencies do not know the ultimate cause of the launch failure. “And the North Koreans probably don’t either,” the source said.