Defense Secretary Panetta Expresses Concern Over North Korea's New Mobile Rocket Launcher

(Image Credit: Scott Olson/Pool/AP Photo)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today that there's "growing concern" about a new North Korean mobile launcher for long range rockets that was first displayed by North Korea at a military parade this past weekend.

At today's House Armed Services Committee hearing on Syria, Panetta said that regardless of North Korea's  failed missile launch last week it was still a provocation

"There's no question that North Korea's  capabilities with regards to ICBMs and, you know, their developing  nuclear capability represent a threat to the United States.  And for  that reason, we take North Korea and their provocative actions very  seriously.  "

"The history is they usually turn somewhere else to try to do  something provocative, and we hope they don't do that.  We're prepared  from the Defense Department's point of view to deal with any  contingency, but there is growing concern about, you know, the mobile  capabilities that were on display on the parade recently in North  Korea.  "

During a miltiary parade to honor the centennial of the birth of Kim il Sung, North Korea unveiled what appeared to a be a new long range missile.  The missile was mounted on a 16-wheel truck  that appeared to be a mobile launcher.  Because the vehicles can transport missiles for launch from different sites, they are harder to find and destroy.

Panetta said better intelligence is needed to determine exactly what those mobile capabilities and look at "what's real and what's not real here in order to determine  exactly what that threat represents. "  Panetta was referring to speculation that perhaps the new long range missile may have been just a mock-up intended to impress a foreign audience.   However, Panetta said that "the bottom line is,  if they, in fact, have a mobile capability to be able to have ICBMs  deployed in that manner, that that increases the threat coming from  North Korea."

There's also been speculation that the mobile launcher the rocket was mounted on could only have come from China despite U. N. Security Council resolutions barring the export of that type of equipment.   Panetta spoke generally about China  providing some assistance though he did not specify exactly what it was.

"I'm sure there's been some help coming from China.  I don't know, you know, the exact extent of that.  I think we'd have  to deal with it in another context in terms of the sensitivity of that  information.    But, clearly, there's been assistance along those lines. "