Friday, October 10, 2008

Pyongyang's missile barrage

These are hard times for dictators. The financial crisis draws all the attention and also the theocracies in the Middle East steal the show from Kim Jong Il. Even the threat to restart Yongbyon left the world not in shock and awe. So it is time to take a look into the toolbox and find something to emphasize the own standing. Voila! There is something reliable: a missile test!

On Tuesday, October 7, North Korea has test-fired short-range missiles into the Yellow Sea. As it is usually the case with information coming from or about DPRK, nothing is known for sure. It is not even clear whether one or two missiles were fired but the majority of sources refer to two.

Some South Korean media said the North fired either surface-to-ship KN-01 or KN-02 missiles or Russian-designed ship-to-ship Styx missiles. The Seoul Times limits the choice of missiles to the KN-02 and the Styx. KBS reports that a South Korean military official said the missiles were not ballistic ones, but cruise-missiles, either anti-ship Styx missiles or KN-02 missiles. South Korean intelligence sources earlier on Tuesday said there were signs that the North Korean Army was getting ready to fire KN-01 and Styx from Chodo, South Hwanghae Province, where its ninth Flotilla is stationed.

Let’s take a look at these three missiles: The P-15 Termit (SS-N-2 Styx) is a Soviet anti-ship cruise missile with a range between 35 and 80km, depending on the type. The KN-01 is based on the Styx , or the essentially similar Chinese supplied HY-2 (Silkworm) missile but has its range extended to 120km. In contrast to the two aforementioned missiles, the KN-02 is a single-stage ballistic missile based on the solid-propellant guided Soviet 9K79 Tochka (SS-21 Scarab). Again, the DPRK tinkered a bit with the range and extended it to 120km.

This shows that the KBS information is contradictory in itself because the KN-02 is a ballistic! But besides that the best one could come up with is that most likely a Styx missile was launched. Probably also a KN-01. I hope that more information will come up soon.

Meanwhile, some sources were even more creative in their thinking: conflicting speculation has arisen over whether Tuesday's missile test-launch was from aircraft:

Yonhap said North Korea was believed to have used a Soviet-made Antonov AN-2 to fire two anti-ship KN-01 missiles, while some other sources raised speculation that the North fired air-to-ship missiles from an IL-28 bomber also built by Russia.
As you might have guessed given the uncertainties of the previous information, no confirmation is available for the air-launch.

South Korean officials downplayed Tuesday's firing as part of routine military drills. The North has carried out such short-range missile tests many times before, the last two tests were conducted in March and May. The U.S. Department of State has even declined to confirm the Tuesday-tests and said that it "would advise against" any short-range missile firing.

It seems that the Dear Leader was not very impressed by this warning. The South Korean Chosun Ilbo reported the North is preparing to test as many as 10 missiles in the next days. That many missiles were deployed on the country’s west coast and Pyongyang may test fire at least five of them, the newspaper said. A government source was quoted saying that the North Korean military is preparing KN-01 surface-to-ship and Styx ship-to-ship missiles. South Korean media speculated that the upcoming launches could be a firework-contribution to the South's current celebrations of the 60th anniversary of its armed forces or to the anniversary of North Korea's ruling communist party.

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