A new North Korean mobile missile recently made public is built on a transporter-launcher nearly identical to a Chinese mobile launcher, according to U.S. officials and private analysts.
The disclosure of the apparent Chinese-North Korean missile cooperation prompted a senior House Republican on Tuesday to ask the Obama administration whether U.S. sanctions should be imposed on China for illicit arms transfers.
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Rep. Michael R. Turner (R., Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, stated in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that the new missile appears "based on Chinese technology in violation of international obligations and [poses] a threat to the national security interests of the United States."
Turner has led efforts in the House to sound the alarm on the new long-range mobile missile in recent hearings and in earlier letters to the Obama administration.
"As if the threat of a North Korean road-mobile ICBM wasn’t bad enough, the photographs of this new missile from the military parade in Pyongyang suggest cooperation and support from the People’s Republic of China," Turner said, noting "the gravity of the threat."
Turner asked Clinton and Clapper to report to Congress on any evidence of Chinese companies supplying mobile missile launchers and, if such evidence exists, when such cooperation became known.
He also asked whether the Obama administration has taken any steps to halt China’s missile cooperation with North Korea.
The congressman also asked whether Chinese cooperation with North Korea violates U.N. sanctions on North Korea, or the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
"If so, when will the United States invoke such sanctions as are available against China and Chinese entities for this apparent support for the North Korean ballistic missile program," Turner asked Clinton and Clapper.
Turner said the United States "cannot permit a state such as the People’s Republic of China to support—intentionally or by a convenient lack of attention—the ambitions of a state like North Korea to threaten the security of the American people."
"Indeed, such cooperation undermines the administration’s entire policy of investing China with the responsibility for getting tough of North Korea," he said.
A North Korean military parade in Pyongyang April 15 included a new long-range missile identified as the KN-08 mobile ICBM.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper, said the agency is reviewing the letter. He had no other immediate comment.
Rep. Turner’s letter quoted Richard Fisher, a China military analyst, as the first analyst to identify the origin of the launcher for the missile as the WS2600, a 16-wheel transporter erector launcher first designed by the 9th Academy of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), also known as the Sanjiang Special Vehicle Company.
"This entity also produces the ‘WS’ series of TELs that are used by CASIC’s DF-11, DF-16, and DF-21 short and medium range missiles," said Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington.
Based on the size and three stages of the missile, its range is estimated to be between 3,100 miles and 3,720 miles, enough to hit targets with a small warhead as far away as Alaska.
"In a threat that has been developing for over a decade, the KN-08 not only threatens Alaskans, but will also threaten Alaskan petroleum transshipment points crucial to the American economy, all of which justifies additional missile defense assets for Alaska. This missile could easily reach Guam, Okinawa, and the Philippines," Fisher warned in a letter to Turner.
Fisher obtained a brochure from the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. that shows the North Korean missile’s 16-wheel mobile launcher to be nearly identical.
In Fisher’s analysis, the two launchers have nearly the same windshield design and cab roofline, a very similar grill and front bumper lights, and a similar cabin design.
"There is either a Chinese factory for this thing in North Korea or more likely, these are coming off the production line at the Sanjiang factory," Fisher said in an interview.
"It is a Chinese machine and raises questions as to whether the missile is also produced in China," he said.
China in the past sold solid mobile missiles to Pakistan, including the DF-11 and DF-16 short-range missiles.
Two other analysts with the British defense analysis firm IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly also said the launcher appears to be Chinese.
Ted Parsons, a correspondent with Jane’s, also noted the launcher similarities. "CASIC's involvement in North Korea's missile program would require approval from the highest levels of the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army," Parsons said in an email.
Another Jane’s expert, James Hardy, said: "If confirmed, China’s involvement in providing this erector-launcher to North Korea would put it in breach of U.N. Security Council resolution 1874, which prohibits supplying North Korea with ‘any arms or related materiel, or providing financial transactions, technical training, services, or assistance related to such arms.’"
"The possibility that China is supporting North Korea’s strategic weapons program complicates international efforts to negotiate with North Korea and could fatally undermine the six-party talks, which are hosted by China and are built on the premise that there is a unanimous desire to prevent the North from developing a nuclear capability," Hardy said.
Another major worry, according to Fisher, is that North Korea will proliferate the mobile launchers to Iran, which developed its mobile Shahab-3 missile from North Korea’s medium-range Nodong missile.
Fisher said he believes the new missile represents a crisis for U.S.-China relations.
If the missile launcher transfer is confirmed, Fisher said, "This should cause a wholesale re-evaluation of our relations with China."
"China has put a nuclear bullet in North Korea’s gun, and it is aimed at the United States and its allies," Fisher said.
Disclosure of the apparent Chinese-North Korean missile cooperation comes as the administration announced on Tuesday that it plans to hold the next round of U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing May 3.
The talks will include Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and China’s State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice Premier Wang Qishan. The talks also include a military element. China’s proliferation activities have been a subject of the talks in the past.
A CIA report to Congress made public in February made no mention of the new North Korean mobile ICBM or China’s role in providing missile equipment and technology.
However, the report said North Korea is continuing to build more sophisticated and longer-range mobile missiles with help from "various foreign sources."
The report, drafted by the CIA’s Weapons, Intelligence Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center, known as WINPAC, also said China continued to sell short-range missiles and related equipment for systems under the 300-mile range proscribed by the Missile Technology Control Regime.
"China regularly assures the world that it opposes North Korea’s obtaining nuclear weapons, and has taken a high profile role in leading international negotiations ostensibly to ‘convince’ North Korea to halt its nuclear missile programs," Fisher said.
"This most recent action, if confirmed, indicates that China is a key partner in helping North Korea to build its future missile forces, which may soon be capable enough to attack the United States and its allies with nuclear warheads."
Adm. Robert Willard, outgoing commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, publicly confirmed North Korea’s development of a new mobile ICBM during a congressional hearing March 2. "There is development within North Korea of a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile system that we’ve observed," Willard said.