NK missile launch a sign of progress

The North Koreans launched a ballistic missile Wednesday and that rocket reportedly carried a satellite into orbit and successfully landed in a targeted splash down area.

For years the North Koreans have unsuccessfully launched ballistic missiles and drawing the ire of the international community, especially U.S. and Japanese leaders. In every other missile test, the North Koreans the rocket either didn’t launch or it took off and quickly fell into the sea.

Wednesday’s test was by all accounts successful. The North American Aerospace Defense Command reported that “initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.”

There is no report if the satellite launched into orbit is working, but North Korea joins a class of 11 other nations that have launched a satellite into orbit.  As recently as April, the North Koreans failed to launch a missile when the second stage reportedly did not ignite.

The successful launch is a sign of progress, but defense analysts cautioned that it’s not a sign that North Korea is close to operating an intercontinental ballistic missile program that could threaten the U.S. North Korea’s neighbors in the Pacific region are more concerned to include the Chinese.

Jim Miller, U.S. undersecretary of defense for Policy, and Chinese Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army general staff, met Wednesday and discussed the North Korean launch among other topics. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei expressed “regret” that the North Koreans, a staunch Chinese ally, launched the missile.

The White House called it a “highly provocative act that threatens regional security.”

The North Koreans have to show they can repeatedly successfully launch a rocket consistently before their military can declare success. They are also still far away from the capability of firing a rocket that threatens the U.S. mainland.

“It is definitely a step forward towards potentially having the capability. But it does not mean they have it now, nor that they are guaranteed to get it in the future,” Brian Weeden, a former officer with the U.S. Air Force Space Command, said in an e-mail to Danger Room. “Last night (or this morning for them) was the first time they’ve gotten a long-range rocket to work right in 14 years (counting from their first attempt in 1998). One success indicates progress, but not victory.”

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • What?

    It used to be, “they’re not a threat; they don’t have a nuke!” Then it was, “they’re not a threat; they can’t launch a ballistic missile right!” Now it’s, “Well, their missiles can’t hurt us.”

    • EW3

      If they put an “object” into LEO, it’s bound to pass over the US at some point.

      On one of those passes even a small nuclear detonation could produce an EMP sufficient to screw us up for a few weeks / months.

    • rth

      Actually I am more concerned with the fact that an object is now in orbit potentially under there control and no one knows what it is. Doen’t take much to start having it run collasion courses with US satillites.

  • Chops

    I would imagine that if the NKs ever launched a missile at Guam or Japan or even Hawaii, the NK capitol would wind up a sheet of glass.

  • stephen russell

    Next add Iranian nuclear warhead?>??
    Scary IF Iran sells to No Korea its first nuke??

  • Lance

    So what they got a mini Sputnik in space BIG news for 1960 not 2012!

    • tmb2

      True, but an ICBM doesn’t need to be a precision weapon to be a threat. The good news is their bomb program is still in it infancy and can’t fit on a missile yet.

    • The_Hand

      Their bomb program is also atomic, not thermonuclear. Not that atomic weapons are anything to sneeze at, but we’re talking tens of kilotons on the order of Nagasaki, not megaton-range citybusters.

  • BlackOwl18E

    It’s kind of scary if you think about it. If North Korea really wanted to hurt the US all they would need to make is a rocket able to enter orbit that is loaded with a massive pile of rocks or shrapnel and a way of dispersing it widely enough. If a massive pile of gravel was indiscriminately released into orbit it would eventually start tearing up satellites like crazy. This might piss off Russia and China too, but they don’t rely on satellites nearly as much as we do.

    • JamalTheBanker

      There have been reports that the NK “satellite” has been “out of control” and did not initiate its electronics and solar panels once it reached its desired elevation and orbit. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is not a satellite at all, but rather a ballistic missile shell disguised as such.

  • LtKitty

    I know they’re totally unrelated and 100% coincidental, but it’s interesting that the 3rd test of the X-37B launched yesterday. We should send pictures of their satellite to the Norks to stimulate international relations!

    *picture of blank space and some junk*

    • Rob

      if only we had a tractor beam

  • Rob

    One report states that it is out of control in orbit
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/12/north-ko

    My concern is if you can build a box to launch into space then orbit. you can build a rocket launcher in that box and hit targets within a few hours. Biological contaminants adds to the concern.

  • maxtrue

    1. Why was the administration surprised yet again?
    2. With the proliferation of long range missiles (and you can bet NK wants to be a producer), why are we not advancing full steam with DEW, the obvious counter to air borne threats?
    3. Why is the US not taking steps to punish those countries that are helping NK- Pakistan, Iran, China to name a few?
    4. Will the administration be surprised when it turns out NK was testing small-sized nukes that could fit their lift capability or be transportable?
    5. Why did not any ally or the US take out the NK missile?
    6. The Philippines did not have the capability to even track the NK launch as it soared over their country. Why? And if the Japanese spent 12 billion on missile defense, why not station an advanced intercepting system with the US on Okinawa, the island apparently the launch flew over? There are limited flight lanes NK can test their missiles.
    7. Why would China provoke the Japanese with their air force over-flights of disputed islands right after this event if not to deflect for NK?

    These are some real issues and I have not heard much here or in mainstream media addressing serious questions. When are we going to get tired of air borne threats and finally develop DEW and Kinetic systems that will roll back the missile and air craft threat for decades? Open source data indicate that such systems would make the cost per missile defense hit under a thousand dollars as opposed to the tens or hundreds of thousands it presently costs. Really people. In terms of long term costs and long term strategy someone more intelligent than me please explain why we are not taking the rational course here and sending a signal we are ready for surprises?

    Its not like we haven’t pour billions into this goal for several decades.

    DT? Anyone?

    • Globalstrat

      1) It wasn’t suprised. Intelligence would have forewarned them. What they say infront of a camera is always going to be vastly different. If they said what they thought, there’d be no such thing as ‘security’
      2) DEW is a concept – not a fullly realised weapon. And energy weapons wouldn’t bother the NKs. They dont care if the people are left in the dark. it’s a war of thought, rhetoric and realisation so if the real world is taken away, why should that bother the government,
      3) Because the US doesn’t need any more accusations of bullying. It knows it cannot justify destroying a country that is only trying to get the weapons the US already has. That’s internationally unacceptable.
      4) No. The CIA has likely been screaming along that line for a decade now
      5) This is the big one. Japan wanted to shoot it down a threatened, but they didn’t. I suspect the US told them not to. After all, you don’t learn about it’s capabilities if you shoot it straight down. They wanted to know speed, flight pattern, guidance/nav and all sorts. That will give them a clue about the success of the NK program. Shooting it down is a wasted opportunity. Japan had to listen. All their anti ballistic missile technology is supplied and maintained by the Americans.
      6) The US would have had plenty of subtle tracking stations. Warships, airborne radar aircraft and tracking stations in all the places that they were positioned in the cold war to keep an eye on the Eastern part of mother Russia.
      7) Because the Chinese’ middle name is ‘poke’. They like to subtely poke their enemies. They don’t do anything big or obvious, but their game-changers are designed to be hidden and non-obvious. Look at their computer and market infrastructures. Yes teh Chinese want to be equals to America, and yes they don’t like the Americans, but all their work is underhand

  • Old Vet..

    The Issue here is not that North Korea can launch a missile. But how much international attention they can get from this.

    I do not see this as a threat against the US and Japan. If this becomes an issue the US has the ability to neutralize a had full of nukes with the B-2. On the off chance they get one up we have a number of weapon systems to address the issue long before it got any where near the US. The only way a intercontinental ballistic missile becomes an issue is if you can over load the other sides defenses.. There only 2 nations that have this ability the US and Russia.

  • Mike

    And in other news, the recently launched X-37 has completed its first task of its mission by shooting down a recently deployed North Korean satellite with lasers……….

  • Panzer Bob

    I was thinking the X-37b was more than likely capturing Kim’s UNsatilite!!!

  • paul

    N Korea has 2 nuclear powers on both it’s borders. If I was them I would want a nuke also. Just like Israel has nukes so why shouldn’t it’s neighbors have them also. Oh yea, because America and the west say they can’t.
    LOL!

    • Rob

      Because the program is not properly monitored to prevent giving nuclear tech to terrorists or rogue governments. If north korea was friendly to USA, we wouldn’t care. But instead they want to remain enemies. I hope we capture or shoot down their satellite.

      • Roger

        LOL hey If i have a gun, and say you want one too…but I hold the gun up to you and say ,no you cant have one bc we are not freinds? That makes a lot of sense

        • Roger

          Dont forget I have used my gun to kill somebody already.

        • Rob

          I’d agree with your immature point but North Kore is an aggressive dictatorship that brainwashes it’s population that we are going to kill them all. If China and Russia completely fell apart, we’d still not invade the north… but if we fell apart, the north would invade the south tomorrow. Similar to Al Quada, in that they offer no peaceful resolutions or options. Wheras we have offered many options, of which include nuclear inspectors & promises to not sell or give away such dangerous technology.

          2 sides to every story, I know & possible we pushed them to get nukes but if hadn’t noticed, world powers have been negoitating reduction in nuclear forces for decades and if NK and Iran continue down this path they chose, it will only bring us closer to World war. It will not help anything.

    • zak

      Because their past leaders were insane and their current leader probably is too. They let millions of their own people starve and you think they are just another normal country? Not even close.

      • Roger

        Oh and the US has no starving people? How many times have you been to NK? oh my bad i cant argue with someone who gets second hand information. NVM, Go research how many NK’s hate KIM.

  • JackBlack

    In the other news, X-37B launched, wonder why this coincidence.

  • john denver

    The X-37 in orbit right now is probably hacking that NK satellite to pieces. Space wars have cometh.

  • Roger

    Maxtrue knows a lot about weapon technology but not so much about economics. LOL punish China huh hahaha. Thats like asking the child to punish the babysitter noob. China is the powerhouse now, and they have strong ties with pakistan and NK. I have friends in all these countries excpet for NK and they tell me China can open their US reserves and shut us down at a moments notice(this is taught in foreign colleges) China is now owning land in America and has forced american companies out of business on our own turf. Check the recent news about San Diego. Anyways our missiles are not perfect, computers and technology lack one thing that cannot be programmed…”common sense”.

    • maxtrue

      Economics can be reformed. Security which has allowed the Chinese to do some leap frogging on theft can also be fixed. We have great resources and demographics and our future is bright if we find the “common sense”. Chines here aren’t trying to get back into China.

      On the other hand China is in part a house of cards held up by government control of communication and expression. That IS what communism does. That veil is easy enough to penetrate. China’s neighbors are not please with China and will certainly not allow China to steal their resources. America is in a completely different situation. China can have Pakistan and North Korea. I prefer, South Korea, Japan, Israel, Germany, England, Australia, Canada, etc. And before you laugh at the idea of punishing China, know they must maintain a very high GDP to keep the masses from protest. This GDP is largely based on exports. Their behavior is contained by their need for resources and exports. Every few months a new marvel like bullet trains come crashing down. God knows what will happen to their great dam when an earthquake comes.

      I don’t know that much about weapon technology, but I do know that China is not the Dragon they would like us to believe. There are more people in India and Russia is not about to be assimilated by China. Western China lies at the edge of the Islamist wave.

      I do agree with you that if we don’t find our common sense, restart our manufacturing and fool ourselves about the reality of the new Multipolar world, we will decline. But then you are here to advocate for our coming resurgence, aren’t you?

      Are you a friend or foe Roger?

  • Simple Man

    Kim Jong Il: Now you see, the changing of the worrd is inevitabre!
    Lisa: I’m sorry, it’s what?
    Kim Jong Il: Inevit, inevitabre.
    Lisa: One more time.
    Kim Jong Il: [shouts] Inevitabre! Things are inevitabrey going to change! Goddamnit, open your fucking ears!

  • GUEST

    Congrats DPRK- You’ve made it to 1957 ;)