North Korea and Iran Poised For High Stakes Rocket Launch

North Korean Unha-3/TD-2 rocket sits in massive service tower at the new West Sea Coast Launch Site. Note how service structure can handle a much taller and wider rocket vehicle. Photo Credit: AP

North Korea’s planned April 12 space launch of a Unha-3/Taep’o-dong-2 (TD-2) ballistic missile is as important to Iran as it is to North Korea. 

The flight takes place with several new U. S. missile defense and eavesdropping spacecraft operational that were not in place when the last major North Korean launch took place in 2009. This large new intelligence armada in space, combined with high quality Japanese satellites, will make this flight the most heavily monitored North Korean test in history, with additional surveillance from air and sea assets.

Both North Korea and Iran are cooperating on the Unha-3 class and larger ICBM developments that will come under increased scrutiny given the especially large rocket servicing tower discovered at the new “West Sea Coast Launch Site” just revealed publicly.

North Korean Unha-3/TD-2 class launch in 2009 was the most recent flight prior to this week's. This one was off an east coast pad. Note how much smaller the service tower is, sized specifically to the TD-2. Photo Credit: Yonhap News Agency

The launch is also taking on extraordinary North Korean political importance beyond the high stakes it already has. This is because young new leader Kim Jong-eun has appointed as generals the country’s top civilian ballistic missile and nuclear weapons engineers and elevated them to his inner circle.

This means he wants to be closely identified with ICBM and nuclear warhead developments, and also wants to keep his sword more closely over the heads of the engineers in charge of that weaponry.

According to a major report in The Asia Times, ”At least 10 senior North Korean officials, now prominent at the core of power behind Kim Jong-eun, have been named by foreign intelligence services as in charge of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile development and export program, including enrichment of uranium to weapons grade strength.

They have also been implicated in selling nuclear and missile technology to Iran,” The Asia Times reports.

Unha-3 (Milky Way-3) stands 118 ft. tall and has about 4,000 mi. range capability as a ballistic missile. Again note large scale of service tower relative to moderate size of the Unha-3. Photo Credit: AP

The flight is set for liftoff between 7 a.m. and noon local time from April 12-16 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late President Kim II Sung who founded the Communist North Korean state. North Korea has announced an initial launch attempt will be made April 12.

The rocket and the new “West Sea Launch Site” facilities at Tongchang-ri on North Korea’s northwest coast were revealed to invited westerners April 8.

NBC News space analyst and trusted friend Jim Oberg said after inspecting the vehicle up close that the Unha-3 (Milky Way-3) vehicle being used for this launch had not yet been “technically weaponized”.

The black service structure dwarfed the white rocket and was clearly built to prepare much larger North Korean rockets than the 118 ft. Unha-3.

Japanese Aegis destroyer like one positioned under the North Korean missile's ground track is ready to shoot it down with an SM-3 Standard missile like that shown here if the North Korean vehicle strays off course. South Korean and U. S. Navy destroyers are ready to do the same. Photo Credit: Japanese Defense Ministry

U. S. and South Korean intelligence analysts believe the new facility is directly related to testing North Korea’s new 6,200 mi. range 130 ft. tall “Satan” long range ICBM and a related North Korean/Iranian space launch booster with up to six engines clustered in the first stage.

Iran and possibly North Korea plan to use the large new space launch booster to send Iranian and North Korean astronauts into space.

According to Charles P. Vick at Global Security.org, some analysts believe North Korea hopes to turn the Satan into a semi-mobile ICBM for concealment in caves etc. That would be very hard to do with such a large liquid fueled rocket he notes .Evident in images of the launch tower are service levels built for the much wider and taller Satan ICBM and space launch vehicles. The entire upper servicing level, with a large circular opening in the floor, extends well above the top of the Unha-3/TD-2 on the pad.

The rocket will launch the 220 lb. Kwangmyongsong-3 Earth imaging satellite into a 310 mi. sun synchronous polar orbit. This will be the third flight of the 3 stage 4,000 mi. range vehicle. Two previous satellite launch attempts failed to orbit a satellite for any length of time, but provided North Korea with valuable rocket performance data.

Upper Stage of the three stage Unha-3 has Iranian liquid propulsion system to push the satellite into orbit. Photo Credit: AP

South Korean, Japanese and U. S. Navy Aegis destroyers with Standard missile systems will be linked together ready to fire at the vehicle should it veer off course. Two new U. S. Space Tracking and Surveillance Satellites have a chance of monitoring the launch as does the first Space Based Infrared System SBIRS satellite in geosynchronous orbit, along with about three Defense Support Program infrared missile warning satellites. The large new X-band radar is also positioned in the Western Pacific to monitor the launch a relay data to the destroyers and other missile defense nodes.

South Korean intelligence analysts believe that North Korea has built about 20 of the Unha-3 vehicles, some of which are to be shipped to Iran where they would be launched as Iranian “Simorgh” ballistic missiles initially from the new Semnan launch site east of Tehran.

The Semnan launch facility itself duplicates the new Tongchang-ri launch site to be used for the first time this week. The jointly developed Semnan launch site is further evidence of direct North Korean, Iranian cooperation.

Launch control center for North Korea's new northwest launch site is extremely basic with about eight total controllers. Note how these individuals are sitting with all their hands in line well back from keys with what looks like blanked out screens . Photo Credit AP

Intelligence and trade analysts agree that North Korea routinely shares rocket engine, rocket stage, design engineering and rocket guidance systems and software with Iran.

There has been so much sharing of ballistic missile parts and shipments by air, sometimes through third party airports, like Beijing’s, that the United Nations commissioned a major report on this illegal trade. In addition to being a transfer point, many of the missile parts acquired by North Korea then shipped to Iran were originally built in China.  The release of the finished UN report is being blocked, not surprisingly, by China.

A likely engineering model of the 220 lb. Earth remote sensing satellite probably already in nose faring of the launcher is reviewed at the launch site. Photo Credit: Reuters

There are other examples of this cooperation, including some that could have a direct bearing on Iranian / North Korean battle strategy. Examples include:

—The Unha-3/TD-2 upper stage: The third stage of the North Korean rocket was developed in Iran and uses liquid propellants.

–Coordinated missile launches: Both North Korea and Iran have demonstrated the ability to conduct coordinated ballistic missile launch operations if they ever choose to attack at the same time, according to U. S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, Director for the Missile Defense Agency.

— Coordinated sensor jamming: Both countries have also demonstrated the know-how to launch barrage attacks to overwhelm missile detection sensors confusing the sensors on the types of missiles being launched and their targets.

Missile Defense Agency giant self propelled X-band radar has moved into the west central Pacific to monitor the North Korean test that will be fired south out of western North Korea flying offshore of China and Tiawan. Photo Credit: U. S. Defense Dept.

–Duplicate strike tactics: An additional concern is North Korea’s and Iran’s repeated demonstration of salvo launches, indicating large ballistic missile raid sizes that must be considered by the U. S. in developing it ballistic missile defense capabilities, Pentagon officials told the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

–Nuclear weapons development: North Korea and Iran are collaborating on nuclear test results and some analysts believe parts of a 2010 North Korean test or tests were done specifically for Iran. There are also reports that North Korea is preparing for a nuclear test in 2012.

 

More distant view of the pad with photographers in the foreground show how an entire servicing floor above the rocket remans available for use for a much taller and wider vehicle such as the 130 ft. 6,200 mi. range Satan ICBM expected to be paraded through North Korea's capital this week and eventually fired from this pad. Photo Credit: AP

 

 

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