The Yomiuri Shimbun
A long-range ballistic missile North Korea is believed to have been preparing to launch from its Tongchang-ri facility in the country's northwest highly likely will be launched toward Hawaii, which would take it over Aomori Prefecture, according to analysis by the Defense Ministry.
Sources said the ministry also believes such a launch will be made as soon as early next month.
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Based on the analysis and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites, the ministry has moved into top gear its study on optimally deploying Aegis-equipped destroyers equipped with Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor missiles and ground-to-air Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) missiles.
According to the ministry, it has been confirmed that North Korea has missile launch bases in Kitteryong near the military demarcation line with South Korea and at Tongchang-ri near the Yellow Sea, in addition to a base at Musudan-ri in northeastern North Korea, where a long-range missile was launched on April 5.
At the Tongchang-ri facility, either a Taepodong-2 missile or an upgraded Taepodong-2 was believed to have been brought from a missile manufacturing facility near Pyongyang on May 30, according to the sources.
Based on the assumption that this latest missile is a two- or three-stage type and has capability equal or superior to the long-range ballistic missile North Korea launched in April, the Defense Ministry predicted the possibility of a launch toward Hawaii, with a launch toward Okinawa Prefecture and Guam also seen a possibility.
If it took the Okinawan path, when the first-stage booster detaches it could fall in the vicinity of a Chinese coastal area and might anger China.
In the case of the Guam path, the missile must overfly South Korea and Japan's Chugoku and Shikoku regions, which means the booster would be dumped onto a land area. Therefore, the ministry sees both possibilities as quite low, according to the sources.
In case of the Hawaii route, the booster could be dumped into the Sea of Japan. If such a long-range test launch was successful, North Korea would be able to pose a great military threat to the United States, which until now has not regarded North Korean missiles as a threat to North America or Hawaii. Therefore, the ministry concluded the Hawaii route is most probable of the three scenarios, the sources said.
However, while the distance from North Korea to the main islands of Hawaii is about 7,000 kilometers, an upgraded Taepodong-2 only has a range of 4,000 to 6,500 kilometers.
The ministry believes even if the missile took the most direct route over Aomori Prefecture, it would not reach the main Hawaiian Islands, the sources said.
Though U.S. intelligence satellite images showed a missile launch pad had already been set up at the Tongchang-ri base, it takes more than 10 days to assemble and fuel a missile before launch, according to the sources.
The ministry said it believes North Korea is likely to launch a missile sometime between July 4 and 8, because the 1996 launch of the Taepodong-2 missile took place on the July 4 U.S. Independence Day (July 5 Japan time) and July 8 falls on the anniversary of the 1994 death of former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
It came to light Wednesday that North Korea may have transported a missile to a launch site in Musudan-ri.
At the missile launch base in Kitteryong on the country's eastern coast, preparations are under way to launch a Rodong missile, which can target all of Japan, as well as a new medium-range missile, according to sources.
Therefore, the ministry is considering starting preparations to intercept missiles based on the possibility North Korea launches missiles from all three bases simultaneously.
(Jun. 18, 2009)
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