Jeffrey LewisTaepodong Test Prep

I’ve been a little reluctant to write about the preparations for the Taepodong 2 launch.

The press—especially the Japanese press—is filled with a huge amount of disinformation that really complicates things.

Japanese news sources reported that North Korean television told North Koreans to “raise the national flag” and watch television for a “message to the people”—a claim that appears to have been an outright fabrication: The Open Source Center noted that … “DPRK media sources are carrying their regularly scheduled programming and news feeds and have not been observed to report on the alleged ‘North Korean leadership’ ‘instruction’ …”

South Korean officials, presumably repeating intel provided by the US, are providing all kinds of suspiciously specific detail from the number of fuel barrels (the strangely biblical 40), missile mass (65 tons )m, length and diameter (35×2.2 meters), stages (2), etc.

So, let’s look at what we know:

Early reports, particularly this article by Demetri Sevastapulo, suggested that activity near the test site was disconcerting but ambiguous.

For an example of the kind of available overhead imagery, Global bought some June 9 images of the launch pad near Taep’odong. As you can readily see, the “activity” in Demetri’s article was the presence of vehicles and the like—there is no missile on the launch pad.

Enter Helene Cooper about a week later. Cooper, rapidly becoming the stenographer of choice for Condi Rice, quoted one US official as saying “all systems are ‘go’ and fueling appears to be done”—preparations that three senior U.S. officials later told Glenn Kessler “are based on incomplete intelligence.”

It seems plausible that a missile is now sitting on the launch pad with some vehicles around—but that is about it.

I will try to write a little more, later, about what we know about North Korea’s missile efforts.


  1. Dean Ob (History)

    What I would like to know more about is the true status of our missle defense system. Wash Times today says 9 missles at Greely and 2 at Vandenberg have moved from test to operational, whatever that is. I think the Pentagon is bluffing with that one. Even when the exact trajectory of the target is known the interceptor has not been able reliably hit it. This annoucement just irresistably dares NK to launch. Which, if we tried to intercept, we would most likely miss, and be humilated.

  2. Anna (History)

    Yeah, that Washington Times story by Bill Gertz is something… Paul or Jeff: What I am curious about is why the public decision to ready GMD that, to put it mildly, is not quite ready for prime time? Is this bluffing now to justify funding increases later?

  3. Andy (History)

    I think the missile defense hoopla is mostly posturing, but I’m sure the operators will use a launch as a training exercise. It will be a good opportunity to test all the systems against an actual NK launch.

  4. Stephen (History)

    I happened to be watching Fox News on Tuesday morning, and heard Baker Spring of the American Enterprise Institute claim with authority that the US military had the ability to shoot down an incoming missile in space, while a separate phone interview between Bill Gertz and a Fox anchor went on later to make the same point: underneath red & gold lettering reading ‘North Korean Menace,’ I saw a series of rotating phrases in gold lettering like ‘US Can Stop Missile in Space’ or ‘NATL NMD Can Detect and Intercept Attacking Missile.’

    Meanwhile, at one point, a graphic showing red arrows arcing over the pole from NK to labelled US cities like Chicago, Kansas City and San Francisco drove home the main point: they can hit the US at any moment.

    Not very responsible reporting, I would say.

  5. James O'Brien

    In response to Dean Ob, I would not focus on the ground based missle defense. You might want to check out what ships are located in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. Remember, so far we’ve been most successful with sea based missle defense centered on the Aegis platform. Check out this older article on the subject: