The April 6, William Broad article “North Korean Missile Launch Was a Failure, Experts Say” in the New York Times diminishes the scope of the threat posed by the North Korean ballistic missile program by omitting some key facts.
Analysis of the Taepodong-2 missile flight path does indicate that a payload was not delivered into earth orbit as the North Koreans claim. In this respect, the effort as a “space launch” did fail. Broad’s conclusion, however, that “[a]nalysts dismissed the idea that the rocket could represent a furtive, calling the failure consistent with past North Korean fumbles,” is both based on biased sourcing and incorrect.
The missile test fired on April 5, 2009 flew for about 15 minutes and flew about 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers). This means that unlike the 2006 test the first stage of the missile functioned well. In addition, the separation of the first and second stages functioned well (demonstrating the capacity to separate stages without destabilizing the flight of the missile represents a key technological advance). The missile appears to have failed between the second and third stages. This means the North Korean missile performed significantly better than the previous test.
One source cited is astronomer Jonathan McDowell who identifies himself as a “political activist,” has been critical of US missile defense activities in the past including the February 2008 shoot down of crippled space satellite. Broad also relied on the expert advice of Jeffery G. Lewis Director, Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at New America Foundation who, when the US demonstrated an advance in anti-ballistic missile technology lamented never having “the opportunity to constrain the technology[.]”
The article completely fails to mention that it has been widely reported that North Korea and Iran share missile technology and Iranian experts may have been on scene at the test. In February 2009, Iran successfully launched a satellite. With the capacity to share lessons learned it is possible that both programs could advance in tandem studying the effects of the test.
Cross-posted at Media Malpractice