[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/03/30/north.korea.rocket/rocket.jpg caption="The latest satellite image shows a rocket sitting on its launch pad in the north east of the country."]
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer
Talk at the Pentagon about the expected missile launch by North Korea early next month is not what you might expect.
Most, if not all, officials we have spoken to are underwhelmed at the prospect that Pyongyang could fire a ballistic missile.
“Look there’s not much we can do, if they want to launch it, they’re going to launch it,” said one senior Pentagon official, echoing the thoughts of many in the building.
Don't get me wrong, there is definitely a worry about where the missile will go and what it will do, the real worry is what the missile launch means for the future of North Korea's missile program.
Pyongyang has said they will launch a communications satellite sometime in the first week of April. But the test is widely thought to be a cover for testing a ballistic missile the North Koreans would be able to use if it ever wanted to launch a nuclear weapon. Both actions are banned by a United Nations Security Council resolution.
North Korea has had a poor track record of successful ballistic missile launches, so and they are also seem to be trying to show the rest of the world they have a viable missile program. In 1998 the North Koreans said they were successful in putting a satellite into orbit but U.S. intelligence said the missile broke up before it got into space.
In 2006 it launched another long-range ballistic missile, a Taepodong-2, which blew up only 40 seconds after launch.
“Since the first time that they launched the missile it flew for a few minutes before crashing, the range of the Taepodong-2 remains to be seen,” said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last month. “So far, it's very short,” he said.
The worry is that North Korea learns more with each missile launch - even when they're unsuccessful - potentially making the nuclear power more and more dangerous.
The worry about a launch is what the North Koreans could glean out of a successful flight to improve the missile program. Even an unsuccessful launch can provide them with useful information, Pentagon officials say.
The U.S. believes the range on a fully operational Taepodong-2 ballistic missile could reach Alaska. But U.S. officials say the North Koreans are also working to extend that range so it could to hit as far as the west coast of the United States.
The U.S. has moved numerous ships to the western Pacific and Sea of Japan to monitor the missile flight path. While the ships have the means to track and shoot the missile down, Defense Secretary Gates has said it is highly unlikely President Obama will authorize a shoot down unless there is a direct threat to the United States.
It has been almost three years since North Korea's last launch attempt. The information the ships gather from the flight of the missile will also help the intelligence agencies discover the latest compatibilities of the North Koreans.
In the meantime, the U.S. continues to try and persuade to dissuade the North Koreans from launching the missile and from building more ballistic missiles, deter them from continuing with that activity, official say.
But expectations are low and Pyongyang will not launch, so the U.S. continues to closely monitor the missile preparations on the launch pad for an expected launch.
But Pyongyang is expected to launch anyway. So the world watches, and braces for potentially dangerous results.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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