How a home­made tool helped North Korea's mis­sile pro­gram

Daily Messenger - - International -

SEOUL: In 2009, a pop video from NorthKorea cel­e­brated a new na­tional hero - one that out­side ex­perts would later re­al­ize was at the heart of the se­cre­tive state’s banned nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams.

That hero, widely avail­able in fac­to­ries across the world, was the Com­puter Nu­mer­i­cal Con­trol (CNC) ma­chine.

Big, grey and boxy, CNC ma­chines use pre-pro­grammed guides to pro­duce in­tri­cate parts for ev­ery­thing from au­to­mo­biles and mo­bile phones to fur­ni­ture and clothes. They of­fer ac­cu­racy that hu­man ma­chine tool op­er­a­tors are un­able to achieve.

In North Korea, thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of home­made tech­nol­ogy and re­verse en­gi­neer­ing, the ma­chines now play a crit­i­cal role in the weapons pro­grams. They al­low Kim Jong Un to build nu­clear bombs and mis­siles with­out re­ly­ing as heav­ily on out­side tech­ni­cal aid or im­ports.

Nu­clear weapons ex­perts say this has helped him ac­cel­er­ate mis­sile and nu­clear test­ing de­spite in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions on the trans­fer of sen­si­tive equip- ment. (Graph­ics on 'Nu­clear North Korea - here)

“North Korea’s cen­trifuges and new mis­siles all de­pend on com­po­nents made with CNC ma­chine tools,” said Jef­frey Lewis, head of the East Asia Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Pro­gram at the Mid­dle­bury In­sti­tute of Strate­gic Stud­ies at Mon­terey, Cal­i­for­nia.

“(They) are the es­sen­tial un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy for pro­duc­ing mis­siles and nu­clear weapons,” said Lewis. Since 1996, CNC ma­chines have been in­cluded in the Wasse­naar Ar­range­ment – an in­terna- tional arms con­trol regime aimed at stop­ping the pro­lif­er­a­tion of equip­ment with both civil­ian and mil­i­tary uses. North Korea is not a sig­na­tory.

The coun­try’s cel­e­bra­tions of its CNC tech­nol­ogy have been ful­some. Hun­dreds of dancers in lu­mi­nous or­ange and green per­formed the CNC pop song, ti­tled “Break through the cut­ting edge,” at a Korean Work­ers’ Party cel­e­bra­tion in 2010. In 2012, the year the South Korean hit “Gang­nam Style” was re­leased, the North’s CNC ti­tle was on karaoke ma­chines na­tion­wide, ac­cord­ing to Cho­son Ex­change, a Sin­ga­pore­based com­pany that trains North Kore­ans in busi­ness skills. The of­fi­cial video for the song opens with a lon­grange North Korean rocket soar­ing into a blue sky.

North Korea likely started to de­velop its own CNC ma­chines in the early 1990s as part of a drive to build so­phis­ti­cated mis­siles and nu­clear weapons, nu­clear ex­perts say. It prob­a­bly learned how to make them by tak­ing apart ma­chines it had im­ported from the Soviet Union.

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