BERLIN (Reuters) – North Korea is deploying new land- and sea-based ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads and may have sufficient range to hit the United States, according to the authoritative Jane’s Defense Weekly.
In an article due to appear Wednesday, Jane’s said the two new systems appeared to be based on a decommissioned Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile, the R-27.
It said communist North Korea had acquired the know-how during the 1990s from Russian missile specialists and by buying 12 former Soviet submarines which had been sold for scrap metal but retained key elements of their missile launch systems.
Jane’s, which did not specify its sources, said the sea-based missile was potentially the more threatening of the two new weapons systems.
“It would fundamentally alter the missile threat posed by the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and could finally provide its leadership with something that it has long sought to obtain — the ability to directly threaten the continental U.S.,” the weekly said.
Apart from targeting the United States, South Korea or Japan, cash-strapped North Korea might seek to sell the technology to countries that have bought its missiles in the past, with Iran a prime candidate, the article added.
Ian Kemp, news editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly, said North Korea would only spend the money and effort on developing such missiles if it intended to fit them with nuclear warheads.
“It’s pretty certain the North Koreans would not be developing these unless they were intended for weapons of mass destruction warheads, and the nuclear warhead is far and away the most potent of those,” he told Reuters.
NUCLEAR POTENTIAL UNCLEAR
North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 2003 and is locked in long-running crisis talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea over terms for scrapping its atomic weapons program.
The extent of that program remains unclear, although North Korea’s deputy foreign minister was quoted as telling a senior U.S. official last year that Pyongyang possessed nuclear weapons.
Jane’s said the new land-based system had an estimated range of 2,500 to 4,000 km (1,560 to 2,500 miles), and the sea-based system, launchable from a submarine or a ship, had a range of at least 2,500 km.
“If you can get a missile aboard a warship, in particular aboard a submarine…you can move your submarine to strike at targets such as Hawaii or the United States, just as examples. Whereas it would be much more difficult to actually develop a ground-launched missile to achieve that sort of a range,” Kemp said.
Until now only the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China have been known to possess submarine-launched nuclear weapons, although there has been speculation that Israel has a similar capability.
Jane’s said North Korea appeared to have acquired the R-27 technology from Russian missile experts based in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk. It said one such group was detained in 1992 when about to fly to North Korea, but others visited later.
It said Pyongyang was also helped by the purchase, through a Japanese trading company, of 12 decommissioned Russian Foxtrot-class and Golf II-class submarines which were sold for scrap in 1993.
It said the missiles and electronic firing systems had been removed, but the vessels retained their launch tubes and stabilization sub-systems.