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U.S. also readying to shoot down North Korean missile

As North Korea moves toward its planned "satellite launch" in early April, Japan isn’t the only country, that looks like it wants to be prepared to shoot the missile down. Noah Schachtman writes: In what appears to be a response, the U.S. Navy is keeping a pair of destroyers in the East Sea, following joint ...

As North Korea moves toward its planned "satellite launch" in early April, Japan isn’t the only country, that looks like it wants to be prepared to shoot the missile down. Noah Schachtman writes:

In what appears to be a response, the U.S. Navy is keeping a pair of destroyers in the East Sea, following joint exercises with the South Koreans. At least one of those ships, the USS John S. McCain, is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.

The North Korean space launch vehicle, dubbed the Unha-2, is supposedly derived from the TaepoDong 2 (TD-2) missile. Pyongyang has been developing the thing since the 90s, but has never successfully shot one off. If that’s right, it means the North Korean launcher is substantially bigger than the one Iran used. Tehran’s Safir-2 has a mass of 26 tons. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ David Wright thinks the TD-2 is more like 80 tons, more than three times the mass. (MIT’s Geoffrey Forden comes up with a similar figure.)

If those estimates are on target, it means that a successful North Korean missile test could be much more destabilizing than the Iranian launch. Forden calculates it could send a "1000 kilogram warhead over the pole a distance of almost 12,000 kilometers," or 7,200 miles. The satellite the Iranians put in orbit was only 27 kilograms. And, of course, Kim Jong-Il already has nukes; the mullahs don’t, yet.

As North Korea moves toward its planned "satellite launch" in early April, Japan isn’t the only country, that looks like it wants to be prepared to shoot the missile down. Noah Schachtman writes:

In what appears to be a response, the U.S. Navy is keeping a pair of destroyers in the East Sea, following joint exercises with the South Koreans. At least one of those ships, the USS John S. McCain, is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.

The North Korean space launch vehicle, dubbed the Unha-2, is supposedly derived from the TaepoDong 2 (TD-2) missile. Pyongyang has been developing the thing since the 90s, but has never successfully shot one off. If that’s right, it means the North Korean launcher is substantially bigger than the one Iran used. Tehran’s Safir-2 has a mass of 26 tons. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ David Wright thinks the TD-2 is more like 80 tons, more than three times the mass. (MIT’s Geoffrey Forden comes up with a similar figure.)

If those estimates are on target, it means that a successful North Korean missile test could be much more destabilizing than the Iranian launch. Forden calculates it could send a "1000 kilogram warhead over the pole a distance of almost 12,000 kilometers," or 7,200 miles. The satellite the Iranians put in orbit was only 27 kilograms. And, of course, Kim Jong-Il already has nukes; the mullahs don’t, yet.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating