WASHINGTON DC - North Korea may be preparing to test-fire Musudan medium-range missiles in the coming days, U.S. officials speaking to ABC News said.
The latest development comes a day after South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told a parliamentary defense committee meeting that North Korea had moved medium range missiles to a location along their east coast.
Although Kim said the missiles were not “aimed at the U.S. mainland,” he said that he believed they have “considerable range.”
U.S. officials told ABC News that the missiles were estimated to have a range of between 1,800 and 2,500 miles, while David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated they could carry a 700 to 1,000 kg warhead a distance of about 3,000 km.
Wright has said that the Musudan missile specification “uses a generation of missile engines and fuel more advanced than that used in the Nodong [North Korea’s other medium-range missile]…”
Observers suggest a likely test-firing date could be within the next week and a half, before Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15th.
Last year a North Korean rocket launched days before Kim Il Sung’s birthday crash landed into the sea shortly after takeoff, but a rocket launch days before the first anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death in December of the same year was successful.
While the U.S. may not be threatened, officials expressed concern that the movement of missiles to the east coast might mean that a North Korean missile test could overfly Japan – as it reportedly did in 1998. Japan, which threatened to shoot down the long-range rocket North Korea tested in December, currently has ship and land-based missile interceptors in the area.
Speaking about the latest increase in inter-Korean threats, Dr. Andrei Lankov, a Seoul-based specialist of North Korean affairs, today said, “I don’t think there is a major risk of a deliberate provocation, but some risk certainly does exist. What worries me more is the possibility of an accident that might lead to an escalation.
“The current situation means that a couple of rabbits running across the DMZ at the wrong moment might trigger a serious outbreak of violence,” Lankov added.
The Musudan missile has never been tested before and was first seen in October 2010 at a military parade celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Workers’ Party. Perhaps coincidentally, that was also the first parade Kim Jong Un was identified publicly as having attended, coming just two weeks after he was introduced to the country.
Although the American military base of Guam falls outside the rocket’s estimated range and U.S. missile defense systems are being moved into place, Guam’s Governor, Eddie Calvo, expressed concern about developments in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Calvo said his concern stemmed from the fact that “all we need is that one lucky shot … [that] can damage our island home.”
Inter-Korean relations are at a low point following weeks of recriminations between Seoul and Pyongyang. Relations spiralled out of control following UN condemnation of North Korea’s third nuclear test in February.
Picture by Official U.S. Navy Imagery