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North Korea May Be Preparing For Long-Range Missile Launch

By | May 22, 2006

      North Korea may be preparing to launch a long-range missile capable of striking targets in North America, according to Japanese news reports.

      However, the launch from a site in northeastern North Korea may not be imminent, according to reports, even though activity at the site suggests moving toward an eventual missile test.

      North Korea has admitted it is developing nuclear weapons, and is thought to possess at least two of the devices, with the ability to produce more. Experts fear that cash- strapped, poverty-wracked North Korea might begin selling nuclear weapons to al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.

      It is clear that North Korea has developed a medium-range Taepo Dong missile, and is developing a long-range Taepo Dong-2 variant capable of striking targets in North America.

      The new reports come as Congress is considering funding for the multiple U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2007.

      Some elements of a layered BMD system already are being installed in place, such as a ground-based system in Alaska and a sea-based Aegis system. Further in the future are an Airborne Laser (ABL) system that would be able to fire continuously at an enemy missile rising from a silo or launch pad, and other programs.

      Major contractors here include Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], Raytheon Co. [RTN], Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC], and The Boeing Co. [BA].

      As far as estimates that it may be some time before North Korea tests a long-range missile, this is an isolated, secretive nation, and divining its strategic weapons capabilities and intentions can be difficult. For example, western intelligence agencies were shocked when Norh Korea launched a missile that shot over Japan before falling into the Pacific Ocean.

      Those news reports from Japan, and debates over missile threats and the concomitant U.S. need for BMD systems, also come as Congress is debating the future platform for a sea- based missile defense, which thus far has scored the most successes in tests.

      House lawmakers have backed funding to build only one next-generation DD(X) destroyer in fiscal 2007, plus funding for design and other items needed for a second DD(X).

      But the House version of the Department of Defense authorization bill would eliminate future-years plans to build five more of the all-electric surface warships with their ability to accommodate futuristic weapons such as electric rail guns, lasers, and photon tubes.

      General Dynamics Corp. [GD] and Northrop Grumman unit Ship Systems would build the ships.

      The DD(X) is significant in the missile defense debate because it would provide the hull form and much of the high-tech systems required for the future CG(X) cruisers, which would be a major part of the multi-layered U.S. BMD hardware.

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