The U.S. has “growing concern” that North Korea may have gained mobile missile technology that was displayed during a parade this month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
“If they in fact have a mobile capability” for intercontinental ballistic missiles, the potential threat from North Korea is increased, Panetta told the House Armed Services Committee in Washington today. He said intelligence agencies are working to determine the ramifications of the display, and didn’t provide further details.
While Panetta called the disintegration of a North Korean rocket during an attempted satellite launch last week “a huge failure,” he said the U.S. has “growing concern about the mobile capabilities on display in the parade recently.” North Korea staged the parade for the 100th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung.
The technology display may heighten tensions with the U.S. and its allies in the region, who have said they anticipate further provocative actions by North Korea, possibly including an underground nuclear test. The U.S. said the failed missile launch violated North Korea’s February agreement to suspend rocket and nuclear tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid.
The April 15 parade featured what appeared to be a new, larger ballistic missile, said Baek Seung Joo, who commented the day of the display. He studies the nation’s military at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. South Korea’s Defense Ministry indicated at the time that it was unable to comment on the design or whether it was a real missile.
China has provided “some help” with North Korea’s technology, Panetta said in response to a question from Representative Michael Turner, an Ohio Republican who is chairman of the panel’s strategic forces subcommittee.
“I don’t know the exact extent of that,” the defense chief said, adding that the matter should be discussed in a closed session. “But clearly there’s been assistance along those lines.”
Robert Gates, Panetta’s predecessor, and Admiral Robert Willard, former Pacific commander for U.S. forces, warned in the past year that North Korea appeared to be developing the capability to transport missiles by road.
Willard told the House Armed Services Committee last month, just before leaving office, that such a system might be “less predictable” than North Korea’s rockets alone. He said defending against such systems “is always problematic for any armed force, and we are no exception.”
Turner wrote two days ago to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper expressing concern over possible Chinese aid to North Korea’s missile program. Turner cited a letter he received from Richard Fisher, a senior fellow on Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
The 16-wheel “transporter-erector-launcher” for the potentially road-mobile missile in the parade “is very likely based on a Chinese design,” Fisher wrote in the April 15 letter to Turner. “There is even the possibility that it is manufactured in China for North Korea’s use.”
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