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July 20, 2006

The DPRK Missiles: Preparation for the Middle East Crisis

Analysis. By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS. The July 5, 2006, exercises of the DPRK (North Korean) Armed Forces represented a major strategic watershed, successfully demonstrating precise second-strike strategic missile launch capabilities by a range of deployed, mobile brigades, operating under a national command authority (NCA) system. The exercises were by no means the failure that Western officials claimed. The exercises also included successful deployment of strategic countermeasures. 

Significantly, a team of senior Iranian defense officials arrived in Pyongyang on the eve of the DPRK’s missile tests, confirming the collaboration between the two countries in the development of strategic weapons systems, doctrine, and command procedures. This development is not new. 

Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis noted in its September 27, 2004, report: “Military exercises in Iran and the DPRK (North Korea) in September 2004, involving nuclear weapon-capable intermediate- range ballistic missiles indicated major changes in command, control and communications (C3) in both countries; changes in strategic doctrine, shared weapons technologies, and coordinated timing of exercises in order to achieve joint strategic impact. As well, the ongoing developments almost certainly indicate the presence of more deployed nuclear warheads by the DPRK and Iran than was previously acknowledged by US intelligence statements.”

The first launch batch in the July 2006 DPRK tests consisted of between six and 10 missiles — the US confirmed six missiles which it could track from launch to impact; Russian sources said that there were 10 missiles launched, but tracking was only clear for six — with six launched between 03.30 and 08.30 hrs local. The seventh missile was launched at 17.20 hrs local. Of the six which were tracked, number three was the TaepoDong-2 ICBM. 

The DPRK had two defined impact areas; one impact area was surrounded by trawlers, and this was where all missiles except the TaepoDong impact; the TaepoDong-2 impact area was monitored by several trawlers. 

A total of between seven and 12 missiles of a variety types and ranges were launched, each by different deployed brigades from known operational areas, firing in a north-easterly direction from areas in north-eastern DPRK toward the Russian city of Nakhodka in the Sea of Japan/East Sea, rather than in the more convenient west-to-east mode in the direction of Japan. The test showed a high degree of coordination, and tested all but one ballistic missile in the DPRK inventory. The direction and scope of the tests demonstrated that they were not intended to cause either Japan or the US to interpret the launches as possible attacks on their territory, but rather to demonstrate and exercise the national command authority and launch capability. 

Several weeks before the international crisis erupted, in late June 2006, over the anticipated launch from a static site of the TaepoDong-2, mobile ballistic missile units began moving to operational launch sites around North Korea, in an apparent major exercise. Within this exercise, each vehicle deployed came from a different battery, and the movement was in the context of an exercise of national command and launch authority system under the conditions of an evolving DPRK strategy for nuclear conflict.  

The new exercise seemed to test the ability of the DPRK to withstand a US surprise attack, and still retain retaliatory strike capability. The launches starting July 5, 2006, seemed to be the culmination of this exercise.  

Each of the missiles able to be tracked by external monitors struck precisely where it was intended to strike, as evidenced by the positioning of DPRK monitoring trawlers at the target sites. US officials said that the launch of a TaepoDong- 2 ICBM had “failed” because it landed some 600 miles from the launch site, and did not demonstrate its full range capability. Significantly, however, it struck the ocean nearby to a monitoring trawler, positioned to observe the test. 

It seems clear that the launch and NCA operations were designed not to demonstrate missile range, but to demonstrate the deployability, efficiency, coordination, and precision of the NCA system. Each of the missile tests were concluded within 10 minutes, demonstrating a deliberate policy to avoid provocation to Japan, Russia, the ROK, or the US. There was no attempt to fire any of the missiles to maximum range. 

NK-Scud-C, NK-Scud-D, NoDong-1, No-Dong-2, and TaepoDong-2 were tested, and possibly a variant of the BM-25. There were indications even as late as July 18, 2006, that there were still missile units deployed in the exercises, with the expectation that more launches could be expected, including a stationary-launch for a TaepoDong-2. Pre- launch communications were still being monitored late on July 5, 2006. 

It is unlikely to be coincidental that during the “crisis” surrounding the DPRK missile tests was unrelated to intense, ongoing preparations by Iran to begin its own escalations and an actual conflict with Israel, involving Iranian and surrogate ballistic missiles and the NCA facilities. It is, then, entirely possible that the North Korean tests were an operational test of systems which were to be used by Iran in the coming weeks. 

Equally, it is unlikely to be coincidental that, within hours of the completion of the DPRK test of the NCA system (which is identical to that of Iran), Iranian “Supreme Leader” “Ayatollah” Ali Hoseini-Khamene‘i despatched an envoy to Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad, essentially initiating the HizbAllah missile crisis with Israel. 

As well, the international media and political focus on the DPRK’s missile tests distracted observers from the increasing Iranian readiness, and Iran’s preparations to launch rocket and missile attacks on Israel, using its HizbAllah surrogate based in Lebanon. 

What was significant about the DPRK tests was not only the newly-proven precision of the systems, but also the depth of the countermeasures which had been developed to protect the missiles against interception. There is little doubt that the DPRK shortened the burn time of the rocket motors on the test missiles in order to minimize the telemetry gained by outsiders, but the DPRK also successfully employed active jamming of Western sensors during the short flight times.