North Korea May Return To Provocation, General Warns Lawmakers
Need Proven For U.S. Missile Defense Systems
With the ink barely dry on the six-party agreement aimed at halting North Korean nuclear weapons and missile development programs, a general cautioned lawmakers that the rogue regime may return to its recalcitrant ways and “provocative acts.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee heard that warning from Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell III, commander of the United Nations Command, the Republic of Korea/United States Combined Forces Command, and U.S. Forces Korea.
His comments came after North Korea in July fired seven missiles in a major test, all of which worked except for a long-range missile that failed seconds after launch, and after North Korea tested a nuclear bomb in October.
Some analysts have noted that North Korea doubtless gained important knowledge from the test launches, even including the long-range missile that failed.
“Each one of these missiles performed appropriately,” Bell said. U.S. military observers were impressed by the order of the firings, which showed “flexibility” connotative of a “rather modern” technological advancement.
Especially with the six successful launches, it is clear that North Korea has developed “missiles that work” and are operational, not merely test or development devices.
North Korea wields perhaps 800 operational missiles. Some of them could strike South Korea, Japan and perhaps as far south as Guam, the general said.
They include short-range weapons, SCUD-type liquid-fueled assets, the longer range No Dong, and finally some medium-range weapons.
“These missiles are operational” now, not drawings on drafting tables or test-phase hardware, he said.
As for the long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile still in development, North Korea could choose to use such a lifter either for a peaceful use such as lofting satellites into orbit, or for bellicose purposes such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, Bell said. “It could be either,” he said. “It has a long-range potential that could reach the United States of America.”
He spoke in response to questioning about the Taepo Dong-2 purpose, queries posed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the SASC chairman.
Worse, “North Korea sold … missiles to Iran and Syria,” Bell said. “That’s a threat.”
As for the United States, “missile defense is part of a defense against that threat.”
U.S. responses must include an array of missile defenses, including theater ballistic missile defense (BMD), and shields against medium-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles, Bell said.
Airborne Laser Needed
He also specifically said the United States needs the Airborne Laser (ABL), a highly modified Boeing 747 aircraft containing a high-powered laser that can destroy an enemy ballistic missile and fry its electronics. The Boeing Co. [BA] leads the program, aided by Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] making the laser and Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] providing the beam control/fire control system.
ABL, once developed, would destroy enemy ballistic missiles shortly after they rise from a launch pad or silo, before they have the opportunity to spew out multiple warheads or confusing chaff.
Bell stressed that it is crucial to develop ABL so that U.S. forces will be able to kill enemy missiles while they still are rising over enemy territory. That way, if a threat missile is tipped with a nuclear device, nuclear material will be strewn across the enemy nation, not the United States or an ally.
“If we can intercept missiles in their boost phase over enemy territory,” that obviates the “fallout” danger, Bell said. ABL is set for its first test shooting down a missile in 2009.
During the North Korean missile tests, already-developed U.S. ballistic missile defense systems went on alert.
North Korea Still Threatens
If North Korea wishes to gain further concessions, aid or other items, it may well return to flouting international agreements and norms, Bell predicted. “They may return to provocation,” he said. Meanwhile, the United States will mount counter-pressure. “We will continue to push and contain North Korea,” Bell said.
To be sure, Bell continued, “I remain cautiously optimistic” that North Korea can be dissuaded from further defiant acts, especially if China uses its clout to pressure the rogue peninsular regime, or “as long as we [America, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea] remain resolute and focused and stay together,” he said. North Korea obtains many crucial items, such as food and energy, from China.