I had a feeling last night, when I signed off with the Allman Brothers, that I was missing the day's big story. This morning, when I awoke to news of a North Korean nuclear test and a fully fledged nuclear North Korea, I had another feeling... "Kim Jong Il is a dying madman who plans to secure his everlasting remembrance by taking out millions before he exits the world stage." I hope I'm wrong and that I just need a little more sleep or coffee or both. But, what if I'm right? Who would be his target? And when could Kim Jong Il launch for real?
Perhaps these questions can be answered by a closer inspection of North Korea's missile arsenal:
TAEPODONG: This group of rockets is the pinnacle of North Korea's missile technology. Though known to the outside world as Taepodong, North Korea uses the name Unha, or Galaxy. Pyongyang claims they are space launch vehicles (SLVs) to launch satellites for a peaceful space program. Satellite and missile technologies are interchangeable.
ADVANCED TAEPODONG-2: Under development. Potential range: about 5,000 miles, putting the U.S. West coast, Hawaii, Australia and eastern Europe within striking distance.
TAEPODONG-2: Three-stage rocket with potential range of more than 4,100 miles, putting Alaska within striking distance. South Korea says the rocket fizzled soon after takeoff in a July 2006 test. First two stages are liquid-fueled, while the third is believed to be solid-fueled. Iranian engineers are thought to have observed the 2006 launch. Cooperation with Iran has been extensive; Iran's Safir-Omid space launch vehicle owes much to the Taepodong.
TAEPODONG-1: Estimated range of 1,550 miles, according to South Korea. North is believed to have test-launched the missile in August 1998, calling it a Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite mounted onto a Paektusan-1 rocket. Launch shocked the world because it was well beyond North Korea's known capability at the time. The second stage flew over Japan into waters off the country's east coast. Both lower stages are liquid-fueled, with a potential solid-fueled third stage. Payload is thought to be about 750 pounds. Accuracy is believed poor, with no meaningful strike capability.
NEW MISSILE: North Korea has fielded a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry. With a range of 1,800 miles, it could reach Guam, northern Australia, most of Russia and parts of India. North Korea reportedly used Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile technology for the mobile, land-based missile. It reportedly is liquid-fueled with one or two stages. Some reports say North Korea put the new missile on display during a 2007 military parade. Accuracy is unknown.
NODONG: Japan is the likely target of this short-range missile. Nodong is almost identical to Iran's Shahab-3 and Pakistan's Ghauri II (Hatf V), the strongest evidence of the countries' collaboration and of North Korean sale of technology and missile equipment to others. All three countries continue to refine the design. Estimated range of 620 to 930 miles and maximum payload of 2,200 pounds. They are single-stage, liquid-fueled missiles on mobile launchers. Most have fairly poor accuracy, though some may have been fitted with warhead separation and more modern guidance systems.
SCUD: Single-stage, liquid-fueled missile with a range of up to 500 miles. Known in North Korea by the name Hwasong, the SCUD B and SCUD C can reach only South Korea, but the SCUD D could target Japan. Accuracy is extremely poor. Ballistic missile programs in Pakistan and Iran were built on SCUD technology.
Now, the good news...
According to Daniel Pinkston, of the International Crisis Group think-tank, the long-range Taepodong-2 rocket that North Korea fired this month is an unsuitable vehicle for a nuclear bomb because it takes weeks to assemble, fuel and arm, giving ample time for it to be destroyed on the launch pad.
And the bad...
The danger lies with shorter-range weapons, some of which are difficult to detect. They include variants of the Scud, which could strike South Korea, and the Nodong, which could reach much of Japan. Pyongyang also has a short range weapon called the Toksa, which is highly accurate up to 75 miles. The Musudan, which can be transported by road, could reach US bases on the Pacific island of Guam.
Well, I hope that answers who. Unfortunately, the answer to when seems to be "standby..."