If the paucity of North Korean Nodong MRBM tests prior to deployment doesn’t mean that it’s secretly an old Soviet weapon not seen previously, what does it mean?

There are other explanations for a limited testing regime that don’t seem like quite so much of a reach.

First, let’s consider that the North Koreans had been working on ballistic missiles for some time already. North Korea’s missile program started in the mid-1960s, and benefited from cooperation with the Chinese starting in the early 1970s. So there was a base to build from.

Second, the missile wasn’t made from scratch and didn’t involve cutting-edge technology. The Nodong relies on technologies associated with the Scud-B, which had been in North Korean hands from as early as 1972. If we can accept that North Koreans were already experienced at making Scud-Bs by the mid-to-late 1980s, when they were reportedly helping the Iranians set up their own production lines, then the Nodong appears to be a reasonable progression from their known capabilities at the time.

Third, North Korea’s missileers simply may not require that many tests before considering a weapon operational.

Fourth, we may be mis-counting the tests. It’s possible to miss some sorts of events, especially if you aren’t already looking for them very closely.

Also, following from Geoff Forden’s idea of consortium development, early tests of the Nodong in Pakistan and Iran could also be considered part of the part of the development effort. (Iran’s first Nodong flight-test, in 1998, reportedly blew up about 100 seconds after launch.)

Actually, the consortium idea is not so new. In describing its research methodology, the Rumsfeld Commission alluded to it in its 1998 report:

We examined the ways in which the programs of emerging ballistic missile powers compared with one another. For example, we traced the development histories of the related programs of North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan and the relationships among them. This comparison helped in identifying the similarities between programs, the extent to which each had aided one another in overcoming critical development hurdles and, importantly, the pace at which a determined country can progress in its program development.

All of these points add up to an explanation that seems more reasonable than an elusive gang of border-jumping Russians with phantom missiles from the past.

Come to think of it, though, that would make a great Terry Gilliam movie.

Tomorrow: What has the U.S. Intelligence Community said about North Korea’s missile production capabilities?

Yesterday: What Is North Korea Capable Of?