We have all seen the failures that North Korea has experienced in their recent attempt to test their new ICBM’s, missiles exploding on the launching pad or blowing up just after launch. Even the ones that have gotten off the ground have fallen way short of their targets. Is this all by chance, or the result of poor design?
Many experts are not so sure. In fact they believe that the in-flight failure and crash of the missile launched by North Korea on Wednesday was likely to have been the result of a “left-of-launch” attack by the United States. The latest missile has been identified as a liquid fuel, extended-range Scud and was launched shortly after dawn from near the city of Sinpo, on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.
While that may not seem important, remember that the Scud design is decades old and was used by Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War to hit targets as far away as Israel. Why then is North Korea having so much trouble getting them off the ground? The US Pacific Command estimates that the most recent test, flew for a maximum of nine minutes and traveled less than 40 miles before spinning out of control into the Sea of Japan.
North Korea’s missile programme has an unusually high rate of failure. Botched tests range from Musudan missiles to submarine fired missile tests, to the proven Scud systems failures. While these failures may be the result of poor engineering, they may also have been brought down by the US, according to the experts.
Back in 2014, faced with the option of overt military action, or cyber war against North Korea, Barack Obama chose to pursue research into “left-of-launch” efforts to neutralize North Korean missiles, rather than more direct options. “Left-of-launch” strategies involve using sabotage or defective manterials and cyber attacks against missiles immediately after launch. They include infected electronics aboard the weapon that confuse its command and control or targeting systems.
North Korea is a perfect target for such operations as it relies on sophisticated electronics for the internal controls all of which have to be imported, in violation of international sanctions. The real beauty of a “left-of-launch” attack, said Lance Gatling, president of Tokyo-based Nexial Research Inc, is that the North Koreans don’t know if any imported electronics have been deliberately permitted to evade sanctions because they are infected with malware. So when a launch fails they cannot be sure what brought it down.
Mr Gatling said “There are many things that can go wrong with a missile launch, but it would be impossible to tell from outside if something had affected the internal guidance or control systems. It has been openly mentioned that there is a possibility that the North’s supply chain for components has been deliberately infected.”
“It is quite possible that parts that they are importing are intentionally faulty because, through history, there have been similar attempts to sabotage an enemy’s capabilities,” he said, citing Allied efforts during the Second World War to infiltrate agents into Nazi Germany’s program to develop V2 rockets.