The discerning reader will recall that on April 15 I courageously took the position that the missiles paraded by North Korea’s youthful leader, Kim Jong-Un, in celebration of 100 years of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) founded by his grandfather, and of his own ascendency to the leadership position, were probably replicas. They were, I suggested, mock-ups, or empty shells.
Now, in an article in the Los Angeles Times dated April 26, experts are quoted as having drawn that same conclusion. The Times article points to “odd inconsistencies” in the missiles' design. In fact, not one, but six missiles were paraded that day (a surprise to me). Markus Schiller, senior associate at Schmucker Technology, a Munich based consulting company, and the company's own Robert H. Schmucker allude to the fact that no two of the six were exactly the same; a “glaring issue” for weapons that must be carefully engineered. The experts additionally note that the celebratory warheads appeared incapable of separating from the missiles. The surface of these missiles is thin and undulating sheet metal, which couldn’t withstand atmospheric reentry. Schiller said, “That's plain impossible. It’s like looking at a train that has steam exhaust and electricity at the same time.”
I asked the question later that day, in a comment on that Blogcritics article, whether if the missiles were indeed mock-ups or empty shells, would they then need to be transported by Chinese built trailers? Recall that China was accused of violations of international law in connection with the supplying of the tractors. I wrote at that time that:
In an odd turn of events experts from more than one agency have noted that the trailer used to transport the missile or replica of a missile as many believe, must have come from China. These experts suggest a violation of sanctions by China. Wendell Minnick, a reporter on Asian military developments for Washington based Defense News says the size of the vehicle "represents a quantum leap forward"; and suspects that it is unlikely to be of North Korean origin, owing to its technical sophistication. He construes China as the probable source.
Pieter Wezeman, arms transfer expert with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute noted the technical implausibility, but said there was not a likelihood of intentional violation by China.
These conjectures tend to increase the loss of face of North Korea following the failed missile launch in recent days, and that disdain might be at the source of the outcries. In addition it is not clear whether these suspicions would remain, in the event that the missile being transported was simply a much lighter hollow shell.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said China has provided repeated assurances that it is complying fully with UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea. “We take them at their word,” he told a news briefing in Washington.
Military analyst Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center near Washington calls the trailer a product of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) for export to North Korea. Fisher notes that alignment of the sixteen wheels would necessitate a sophisticated onboard computer system which the North Koreans probably have yet to develop.
In truth I question whether some of these issues should have even been brought up, and if some minor damage may result from the nitpicking.