Test-firing of new Scud missiles by N. Korea, Syria, Iran fails

by Tomotaro Inoue

A Western diplomatic source familiar with relations between the three countries said two missiles were launched from southwestern Syria in the second half of May. One of them strayed off its projected course and part of the missile landed in a market in Manbij near the border with Turkey in northern Syria, leaving many people dead and injured, the source said.

Military authorities closed the area to recover the remains of the missile and told local residents there had been a gas explosion, imposing strict domestic censorship on the matter, the source said.

There is information suggesting more than 20 people were killed and over 60 injured, according to the source.

The other missile is believed to have flown in a northeastern direction and may have landed in a border area with Iraq, the diplomatic source said.

A Middle Eastern military source watching the Syrian situation said the test-launch ended in failure due to a problem with the missile's guidance system.

Another source, meanwhile, said that only one missile had been launched and that it flew in a northeastern direction, questioning whether there was another missile that landed in Manbij.

The test underscores the cooperation between North Korea, Syria and Iran in improving Scud missiles, originally developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The missile test almost coincided with North Korea's second underground nuclear test on May 25. In April, North Korea said it launched a rocket to put a satellite into orbit but many countries saw it as a cover for testing long-range ballistic missile technology.

In the joint development of the new-type Scud by the three countries, North Korea is believed to be engaged in engine development while Syria and Iran are involved in the development of warheads and guidance systems.

The Western diplomatic source said the two test-fired missiles were the Scud-D now under development with a range of about 700 kilometers and had warheads different from each other.

The test-firing was led by North Korea, with engineers from Ryonhap-2 Trading Co., which is believed to be engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction, the source said.

At the time of the test-firing, there were also several Iranian experts engaged in the development of Iran's own ballistic missile program as well as supervising figures from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

North Korea has said Syria and Iran should take responsibility for the failure, and investigations are now under way, led by Syria's Scientific Studies Research Center, the source said.

Iran is believed to be financially supporting the joint development on condition that the developed technology is provided to the country, the diplomatic source said.

The missile test -- led by North Korea in a location in Syria with financial support from Iran -- shows a pattern similar to that observed in the suspected nuclear reactor construction in Syria.

In 2007, Israel bombed a facility in Syria where a nuclear reactor was believed to be being constructed with the help of North Korea. In a Swiss newspaper article in March, a former senior Germany defense ministry official said the suspected nuclear reactor construction was financially backed by Iran.

The Middle Eastern military source said the test-fired missiles were a reformed version of the Scud-B with a range of about 300 kilometers.

North Korea test-fired new Scud missiles into the Sea of Japan on July 4 but it is unknown whether they were the same as the two missiles test-fired in Syria.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on August 14, 2009)