Experts: N. Korea’s New Missiles Designed to Dodge Preemptive Strikes 

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Christy Lee and Kim Young-gyo contributed to this report which originated on VOA’s Korean Service.

WASHINGTON — The recent missile tests by North Korea, including one Saturday, show potential weapons that are designed to circumvent any preemptive strikes that would destroy them on their launch pads before being fired, experts said.

North Korea wants to “be able to roll out a launcher, fire immediately, and not give the U.S. and South Korea an opportunity to attack the launcher and destroy them before they can launch their missiles,” said Bruce Bennett, a senior defense and analyst at the Rand Corp.

North Korea said Sunday it

FILE – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the test firing of a new weapon, in this undated photo released Aug. 11, 2019, by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.

What kind of missile is it?

According to experts, the latest missiles North Korea launched are similar to the KN-23, which has specifications comparable to the Russian-made Iskander type missile that Pyongyang began testing in May.

“It looks like it is the same diameter as the KN-23, the Iskander look-alike [but] is shorter,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “It is probably in the same family as the KN-12 Iskander-ish missile but with a slightly different role. It is certainly unclear what its role is right now.”

North Korea first tested what are considered

FILE – This undated file photo provided Sept. 19, 2017, by Russian Defense Ministry official web site shows a Russian Iskander-K missile launched during a military exercise at a training ground at the Luzhsky Range, near St. Petersburg, Russia.

Not a new missile

Bruce Bechtol, a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and now a professor at Angelo State University in Texas, said although North Korea is calling the missiles “new,” they are similar to the missiles modeled after the Iskander.

“People may have been misinterpreting the North Korean statements,” Bechtol said. The statements may have been referring to missiles that are new this summer, he added. “The Iskander is new. They just started testing it. They may have been referring to the same missile.”

McDowell said if the missiles tested Saturday are the KN-23 model, they are “using the similar or the same solid motor” referring to the use of solid-fuel propelled engines in the missiles.

“Solid propellant missiles are easier to deploy operationally than liquid propellant ones because you don’t have to fuel them up,” McDowell said. “They are just ready to go.”

Missiles using solid fuel, Bennett said, can be launched “without having to refuel them after they set them up” on a launch pad. However, the missiles using liquid fuel have to be “set up and then refueled,” and the refueling process “could take half an hour or more, making it vulnerable to a preemptive attack,” according to Bennett.

“If they fuel [the missile], you [have] warning that it [was] potentially going to be launched, and so that was a good time to preempt,” Bennett said.

Launch pads and types of missiles

FILE – A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The South Korean Defense Ministry said Wednesday it plans to ramp up the country’s missile defense system called the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) to better detect and intercept incoming North Korean missiles.

The five-year plan that begins in 2020 will include upgrading South Korea’s early warning radar system that will expand detection coverage of ballistic missiles. It also includes building more Aegis-equipped ship-based interceptors and deploying improved Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-3 interceptors. Aegis-equipped destroyers have wide coverage areas and can intercept incoming missiles that fly high altitudes, and the PACT-3 can intercept missiles directed against smaller areas.

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