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The Huntsville Times July 02, 2009

North Korea tests short range missiles

By Shelby G. Spires

North Korea launched several small, tactical missiles this morning leading to speculation there could be a repeat performance of its July 4, 2006 long range missile test, which ended as an explosive failure.

At least three short range ballistic missiles were fired from a North Korean east coast launch facility, according to news reports and Japan's foreign ministry. The missile launch is in violation of United Nations sanctions placed on the nation following its nuclear weapons test on May 25.

To the Pentagon, short range missiles are seen as a threat to military units and bases, but nations like Japan and Israel fear the weapons capability to attack cities.

The tests come as Congress is mulling over about $1.2 billion in proposed cuts to the missile defense budget from the Ground-based Mid-course Missile Defense program, or GMD, and the cancellation of advanced programs, like the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, or KEI, and a multiple kill vehicle, or MKV, which was under development in Huntsville.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, has been fighting the KEI cancellation, and noted today that North Korea's tests show why the program is needed.

"North Korea's continued missile tests are further evidence that now is clearly the wrong time to eliminate funding for systems such as KEI and MKV and cut funding for GMD, which are designed to shoot down missiles," Shelby said in a statement. "It's pure common sense and the stakes could not be higher. I will continue to do all I can to ensure that fielding a robust national missile defense system remains a priority for our nation."

Although the launches could be a precursor to a long range test, but that is unlikely, according to Pentagon reports and missile defense experts.

"There is a low probability of any long range tests before July 18," said Charles Vick, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org. "There is no indication of preparations for a repeat of a long range missile launch. Today's launch is pretty much just a military exercise that North Korea does about three times a year."

Since January, the North Korean government has ratcheted up military exercises and rhetoric surrounding long range missile and nuclear weapons development. On April 5, North Korea tested a long range missile, and the nation's leaders have continued to threaten any nation that would sail ships near North Korean borders.


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