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North Korea Has Got Trump Fooled

August 29, 2019

Via North Korean media.

Within the span of four short months Kim Jong Un has overseen a significant expansion of his country’s missile arsenal. On several occasions the North Korean leader attended public tests for new road mobile weapons whose characteristics mark a departure from previous models. On May 2, for example, many were surprised by reports of launches for a “tactical weapon.”

Before the end of July, North Korean media revealed what looked like a Russian Iskander missile being fired in a coastal area followed by another missile type from a tracked carrier vehicle. (See photo above.) This August had two more tests for large diameter rockets delivered by 8×8 trucks.

Even more surprising was President Donald Trump’s ambivalence to these demonstrations. He and Kim met twice this year, first in Hanoi in February for a two-day conference that fell apart and then in a spur-of-the-moment PR stunt at the DMZ on June 30 where they shook hands. But neither event pushed along the vague “breakthrough” Washington, DC’s current leadership is hoping to achieve. To date, Pyongyang hasn’t conceded anything other than an extended hiatus for ICBM development.

But as the last four months have shown, Kim remains devoted to Songun: the state ideology of enhancing military power whatever the cost. Based on news published by North Korean media, three new tactical weapons could soon join Kim’s formidable arsenal.

  • The “Iskander” tested in May and July is transported by an 8×8 carrier vehicle with two missiles on its bed. Since North Korea doesn’t abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), this road mobile SRBM could have a maximum range exceeding 500 kilometers but reports indicated its flight only traveled 250 km over water.
  • On August 1 a tracked carrier vehicle tested large diameter rockets whose appearance indicates they’re armed with precision guidance systems–each rocket had canards on their warheads. The same carrier vehicle, which utilizes the chassis of a battle tank, can be armed with SRBMs similar to the one tested on July 25. This missile type was revealed on August 10 when the carrier vehicle was deployed on a beach.
  • Large diameter rockets were again tested on August 24. But this time the carrier vehicle was an 8×8 truck with an elongated bed whose layout resembled the Nasr SRBM from Pakistan. The weapon system featured a quartet of cylindrical launch tubes each armed with a precision rocket.

A fourth weapon that suggests North Korea’s resolve in deterring its enemies is a mysterious submarine that was inspected by Kim on July 23. The photos circulating online fueled a lot of speculation about its intended purpose. Many pointed out a section of the hull whose assumed dimensions might be for a vertical launch system. Whether or not North Korea tries to revive its navy with a missile-armed submarine is speculative at the moment. What should be obvious, however, are the new “tactical” missiles and rockets whose use is meant for South Korea and US forces along the DMZ.

The risk posed by large diameter rockets with enhanced guidance systems are catastrophic. Standard air defenses won’t be able to intercept them and should they be armed with cluster munitions, their effect on cities and other sensitive locations is devastating. It’s no wonder several countries have chosen to develop extreme-range rocket artillery either for export or to lend their ground forces a bigger punch; China (WS-series), Iran (Fadjr/Fajr 5), and Israel (Extra) sell large diameter rockets to end users who can afford them.

If North Korea keeps testing new precision weapons for the rest of the year the cumulative effect on its adversaries should worry the US. Far more destructive than tube artillery and large enough to be armed with either biological or chemical weapons, their mere existence will close the technological gap that has long favored South Korea. The dated consensus of North Korea being a paper tiger teetering on collapse gets rubbished as well. Since assuming power in 2012 a qualitative transformation has reshaped the People’s Army and subsequent military parades revealed a growing selection of either upgraded or advanced weapons.

The baffling non-responses from the Trump administration is a disappointment for regional allies since the more North Korea enlarges its missile arsenal the meager defenses of Japan and South Korea become less effective over time. Going by the assumption that Kim’s personal flattery of Trump in the past year has softened the US leader’s hawkishness, thereby buying time for suspicious military projects, then nothing less than a resounding victory has been achieved by the Songun-obsessed dictatorship.

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