Impoverished, "military first" North Korea is ready to defy the international community and illegally test a ballistic missile under thin cover of a so-called satellite launch. Read the news here.
VOA reports that still and video images of what the North is calling the Unha-3 rocket have given defense analysts and the intelligence community a fresh opportunity to assess the state of Pyongyang's ballistic missile development.
An initial conclusion: North Korea seems to have made significant progress since its failed attempt, three years ago, to conduct a three-stage launch and put a satellite into orbit.
The April 2009 launch was of a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, believed to be of Soviet design, with a third stage of Chinese origin. The second and third stages fell into the Pacific Ocean about 3,800 kilometers from the launch site, far short of the missile's goal.
Japan Says Rocket Really an ICBM
Retired vice admiral Hideaki Kaneda of Japan's Maritime Self Defense Force says there is no doubt that what is on the Sohae launch pad has military applications.
Kaneda, in an NHK interview, noted an apparent cluster of four rocket engines housed in the first stage. He described that as worrisome because four nozzles in the first stage leave no doubt that this rocket could be utilized as a long-range ballistic missile, capable of not only reaching Japan, but also the U.S. mainland.
North Korea claims the third stage is meant to carry an earth observation satellite into a north-south orbit.