At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, outgoing-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates dropped a little bombshell:
With the continued development of long-range missiles and potentially a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile and their continued development of nuclear weapons, North Korea is in the process of becoming a direct threat to the United States.
I thought road-mobile ICBM? That must be some serious jet-lag. Now I realize that, two weeks later, Gates said it again and in a way that leaves no doubt he means it:
North Korea now constitutes a direct threat to the United States. The president told [China’s] President Hu that last year. They are developing a road-mobile ICBM. I never would have dreamed they would go to a road-mobile before testing a static ICBM. It’s a huge problem. As we’ve found out in a lot of places, finding mobile missiles is very tough.
Gates didn’t say anything about the precise type of missile, but my initial assumption is that it is a modified Musudan. US participants in the December 2009 Joint Threat Assessment meeting with the Russians suggested that North Korea might “further develop the technology for an IRBM based on their new MRBM, in the same way the No Dong was a path to the Taepo Dong.” (Warning: Wikileaks) Given another leaked cable that suggests a 500 kg/4,000 km range/payload estimate for the Musudan, perhaps 5,500 km ICBM-class missile isn’t such a stretch if the North Koreans can work out the staging.
Gosh, I wish we knew where Jochen had went to. Someone should model this sucker!