Chair Force Engineer

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kim Jong Ill

Global Security's Charles Vick has some intriguing insights on a possible ICBM launch from North Korea that are worth reading. The most important points, in my opinion, are:
--Taepo-Dong 2 is not a cluster of No Dongs, as parroted by The New York Times and others, but an all-new design based on the Russian SS-N-6 sub-launched ballistic missile.
--North Korea's self-imposed missile moratorium was not rooted in benevolence, but in a need for more time to reverse-engineer the SS-N-6 into the No Dong-B and Taepo-Dong 2.
--North Korea and Iran are cooperating closely on missiles, with the Iranian Shahab-4 being a carbon copy of No Dong-B. Hence, North Korea doesn't have to test missiles as long as Iran is doing it.
--If North Korea does test Taepo-Dong 2, they will likely use a third stage and try to orbit a small satellite. A satellite gives them plausible deniability that the missile test was really a peaceful space launch. This is exactly what happened when the first Taepo-Dong was launched in August 1998.

The Taepo-Dong 2 allegedly uses Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid and Unsymmetrical Dimethyl Hydrazine (IRFNA & UDMH.) These are extremely toxic and caustic fuels. I suspect (though my depth of knowledge isn't extensive enough to say with certainty) that IRFNA is so corrosive that it will require a rocket to be launched within a reasonable time period after being fueled. If the rocket sits on the pad too long, it will likely corrode.

An open question is which trajectory North Korea would choose for a potential missile test, and where the stage drops would occur. Unauthorized overflights of other countries can (and in this case, should) be regarded as a hostile act. Back in 1998, the Japanese were justifiably pissed that the Taepo-Dong flew over the Japanese mainland. If a stage from the rocket impacts into a landmass, there will be much ill-will towards Kim Jong Il.

It should also go without saying that I have no inside knowledge of the North Korean missile program, aside from what Global Security will openly talk about. If I had anything more detailed to say, I certainly wouldn't be sharing it on this forum.