North Korea is on the threshold of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, one that can travel more than 5,000 kilometers, according to a global defense intelligence group.
Missile tests and actual acts of aggression are part of the playbook for North Korea, but the exact nature of their missile arsenal and organisation has been shrouded in secrecy and confusion.
Now the defence intellligence group IHS Janes says fresh information, combined with satellite images, allows for a clearer picture of the Korean People’s Army’s ballistic missile force.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Joe Bermudez, a senior analyst for Jane’s Information Group and editor of the KPA Journal
Listen: Windows Media
BERMUDEZ: North Korea has an inventory of approximately 600 to a thousand ballistic missiles that are scud class or better. And this provides it with the ability to influence events throughout East Asia, and it’s on the threshold of conducting a successful space launch of a satellite, and that would itself provide the technology needed to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile.
COCHRANE: So how far away are they from an intercontinental ballistic missile, and what would that change in the dynamic here in a military sense?
BERMUDEZ: We actually don’t know how close they are but they are close. Their most two recent satellite launches were unsuccessful but they demonstrated some very crucial technologies needed to develop an ICBM. If they do develop an ICBM, it would allow them to strike at the continent of the United States eventually. Would it be militarily significant? Probably not in the sense that western powers think so, but politically it would be a tremendous game change.
COCHRANE: And how are you finding out about this? I mentioned that there’s a mixture of satellite images and some new information, what can you tell us about the source of this information?
BERMUDEZ: The information that I use to develop the article that I wrote for Janes Intelligence Review came from a variety of sources; defectors, defector interviews, interviews with intelligence personnel, defence personnel in East Asia and here in the United States. And when it’s all combined we get the analysis that was presented in the article.
COCHRANE: Now what about the missiles themselves and the technology involved? Is that coming from outside of North Korea or does the country have the capacity to produce it itself?
BERMUDEZ: The seed and the genesis of the technology they have come from primarily former Soviet or Russian technology. They have combined that with other technologies that they have acquired around the world, with technologies they have developed themselves, and technologies that have jointly developed with Iran.
COCHRANE: And looking at some of the photographs that accompany the report, I mean they’re quite startlingly clear images of buildings obviously taken from above that are identified as a missile factory or a particular element of the organisation. Is there an underground element to North Korea’s missile capability?
BERMUDEZ: There certainly is, the images were provided by Digital Globe, and they show that there is an extensive above ground infrastructure, but they also show entrances to underground facilities around the production facilities and the bases themselves are primarily underground facilities. I’ve combined this information with defectors views and information released by intelligence agencies to come to an understanding that the underground facilities of the North Korean ballistic missile infrastructure are probably equal to what we see above ground.
COCHRANE: Joe you mentioned earlier in the interview the capacity, just the sort of sheer number of missiles, 600 to a thousand scud level missiles that North Korea possesses. How does that sort of capacity compare with the South Korean capacity?
BERMUDEZ: South Korea to this day has shorter range ballistic missiles. They’re in the process of developing some longer range cruise missiles, but at this point in time
the sheer weight of North Korean missile inventory outweighs that of the South. I would point out that South Korea’s ballistic missile force and cruise missile force however will be or is significantly more accurate and more capable even though it’s smaller in seize.
COCHRANE: And so North Korea developing more and more missiles and especially more range in the sense of an intercontinental ballistic missile. For those of us who aren’t military experts how does this factor in if it does at all to the country’s nuclear weapons capacity?
BERMUDEZ: From what we can tell North Korea since it began its ballistic missile program has desired to put a nuclear warhead on it. It’s probable that they have a rudimentary design for a nuclear warhead for a ballistic missile, however they haven’t tested it. And that’s the key, if we wanted to talk objectively North Korea could put a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. However would that warhead actually work? Probably at this point in time, no. However we can’t be sure that until we see more tests or we gather more intelligence concerning their missile warhead technology.