Home » Air » NK missile launch a sign of progress

NK missile launch a sign of progress

by Mike Hoffman on December 12, 2012

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.”

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

What? December 12, 2012 at 8:21 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 2:22 am

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.


Nick T. December 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Problem is though, they lost control of their space-toaster, so the good news is they still don't know how to move a object around once it's in space. Gawker's Gizmodo set a a tracking page right now, and by the time I post this, it should be over Antarctica. The point I'm trying to make is, a ballistic missile without a functioning navigation system is a Nuclear war waiting to happen. Also, don't we have systems designed to shoot down satellites, and have tested them at some point in time? *cough*SM-3*cough*


EW3 December 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Big difference between losing control (i.e. tumbling or spinning etc) or it changing orbits (navigation)

The orbit is set by the trajectory of the launch. Once set, it's actually hard to change it. (what makes the X-37B so interesting).

Not to say it's in the orbit they wanted it to be, but almost any orbit which is high enough to last for 10 or more days will be over the US at some time.


Joshua Tonihka January 31, 2014 at 8:13 am

They are equipping C-130s with lasers. The drone gliders will also be able to achieve orbit and shoot down those satellites.


rth December 18, 2012 at 10:27 am

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 December 12, 2012 at 8:46 pm

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.


tiger December 13, 2012 at 11:40 am

Based on the last 4 years of responses to NK actions, You have more faith than I.


stephen russell December 12, 2012 at 9:00 pm

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


Globalstrat December 16, 2012 at 2:18 am

if anything, NK would sell to Iran…..


Lance December 12, 2012 at 9:28 pm

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


tmb2 December 12, 2012 at 10:24 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 2:42 am

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 December 12, 2012 at 9:36 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 12:28 am

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 December 13, 2012 at 1:36 am

if only we had a tractor beam


Rob December 13, 2012 at 1:33 am

One report states that it is out of control in orbit

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 December 13, 2012 at 10:28 am

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 December 16, 2012 at 2:32 am

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.. December 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

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 December 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

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……….


maxtrue December 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm
Panzer Bob December 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm

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


paul December 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm

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.


Rob December 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm

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


Rob December 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 3:17 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm

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


john denver December 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm

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


Roger December 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm

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 December 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm

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?


maxtrue December 13, 2012 at 6:51 pm

forgive the typos….


Simple Man December 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm

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 December 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm

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


maxtrue December 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

The F-16 is not our finest fighter, but Obama is sending a signal by delivering them to Egypt on the day of Israeli elections. And to send the advanced 4th generation version with Morsi advancing an illiberal Constitution for the MB is a terrible signal.

Why would we give Israel nukes when most of the world including (apparently not you) knows Israel already has them? If you want to give Iran a signal, develop DEW missile defense and station it in Israel. Extend the nuclear umbrella to Israel and even the Gulf States. Russia is pulling out of its leased radar complex in Azerbaijan. Let the US make an offer and send a signal to Iran we are at their doorstep to the West. Perhaps Obama might start to consider cutting aid to Pakistan who had a hand in helping NK along with China. My larger questions concerning Nk are below.


blight_ December 13, 2012 at 11:53 am

We've been arming the Egyptians for years, and incidentally training them in our schools. The hope is that members of the Egyptian military can be incubated in a professional culture and take home the valueset of a professional military, rather than being the lapdog of the boss in charge.

The fact that the military did not go Tienamen Square on civilians during the first uprising is a product of an officer corps that will not turn a military on its nations civilians. I'm hoping that such a military would also act in the interest of its people if the state turns overly repressive, but that's wishful thinking.

That said, we're still sending Abrams tanks to Iraq, and F-16's too…to augment the ones we agreed on some time ago.


Citizen of the world December 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm
tiger December 13, 2012 at 11:36 am

Other than talk a lot of crap, when have we detered them? In 4 years they have launched missiles, shelled a Island & sunk a ship with 46 men. All we do is send nasty letters in the mail…..


zak December 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm

You're assuming they are rational but they have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not rational. When the leader is insane (as in he lets millions of his own people starve to death) anything can happen.


Olternaut December 21, 2012 at 9:14 am

I agree except with the Hawaii part. As long as a balance of deterrence is maintained everything will be okay…..until it looks like Hawaii is threatened. Then all bets are off.


blight_ December 13, 2012 at 11:55 am

Egypt's F-16's are Block 40, and export-grade to boot. Israel has newer ones, plus Elbit puts in more toys.


blight_ December 13, 2012 at 11:56 am

The South Koreans take point on North Korea. It's their island that got shelled and their ship that got sunk and their sailors who died. The South Koreans counterbatteried.


maxtrue December 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Kimmie Jr had a top general who was rumored to have partied during the mourning period of Kimmie Sr's death was taken to a field and executed by a mortar shell. It is always interesting to hear people compare dung with diamonds in their relativistic logic. Saddam gassed some of his people and slaughtered far more than died during the US invasion. But then you knew that before you spoke,.


blight_ December 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Iran doesn't have nukes. They have an uranium enrichment program, but no known nuclear weapons capability.

The North Koreans fizzled a bomb, which I guess counts as a nuclear weapon, just not the best one.


navy128 December 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Meant to say "one of the largest producers of uranium" Kazakhstan is the largest, As of 2009.


blight_ December 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm

The embassy itself wasn't hit on 9/11, the official US embassy is in Tripoli.

Ambassador went off into the wilds on 9/11/12 doing god knows what, didn't get back to a secure perimeter and elected to stay outside the wire on the worst day of the year.

Fishy as all heck.


Juuso December 16, 2012 at 11:49 am

India does not have miniaturized nuclear warheads, what makes you think that NoKo has?


blight_ December 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm

It's pretty well known that the nukes they've tried to test fizzled.

We sent our top scientists to the labor camp for it. Clearly they were in league with the treacherous South Koreans and America.


Juuso December 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm

There were claims few years ago that improved CHIC-4 design (15-30kt yield) blueprints were found in Libya, and those claims made some people to suspect that Chic-4 blueprints could have reached Iran.


Juuso December 16, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Those could have been practice tests to save valuable plutonium. For us to declare NoKo tests to be "fizzles", we should know what they were trying to archive, if they wanted to get highest yield possible then those test were failures, but what if those devices were low yield on purpose?

Both Russia and USA conducted many under 10kt tests for various purposes.


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