February 5, 2008:
Analysis of North
Korea ballistic missiles sold to other countries, and debriefing of some key
people who have escaped, indicates that many key missiles components still have
to be imported. Guidance systems and electronics are the two items that the
North Koreans are unable to manufacture themselves. What they have managed to
create are factories that can build missile
airframes, and most of the components that go into liquid fueled
engines. North Korea has also mastered solid fuel rocket technology, although
it is still a decade or more behind the West in this area. Many of the needed
electronic parts are smuggled in, or bought openly, from Russia and China.
It's more difficult to get needed
electronics items from the West, since guidance system grade stuff is usually
considered "military" and requires a lot of additional paperwork to export. As
a result, North Korea missile guidance systems have remained quite primitive.
The North Koreans have been working with scientists, and manufacturers, in Iran,
Syria, and other nations, to get around these problems.
A major effort in North Korea is how to
put a nuclear warhead on a missile. This is not simple, as the warhead has to
be built to handle rapid acceleration (on launch and re-entry) and operating in
near-space (before it turns earthward towards its target.) The Russians and
Chinese have not been very helpful in this department, as both nations are not
keen on seeing North Korea armed with nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.
Given the shabby state of the North
Korean economy, it's amazing that this ballistic missile industry has been
built at all. It was accomplished by starving many other sectors of the
economy. On a per-capita basis, the North Korea GPD is less is than one
twentieth that of South Korea. With a population of 23 million, North Korea is
unable to feed itself, or keep the electricity on 24/7. But the missile
factories always have their lights on, and the workers eat well.