SEOUL – North Korea has moved a second midrange missile to its east coast and loaded both on mobile launchers, a report said Friday, fueling fears of an imminent firing that will further ramp up tensions.
Yonhap news agency, citing a top South Korean official, said two intermediate Musudan missiles had been transported by train earlier in the week and “loaded on vehicles equipped with launch pads.”
Seoul’s Defense Ministry, which Thursday confirmed the movement of one missile with “considerable range,” declined to comment on the new report.
But a navy official told Yonhap that two South Korean Aegis destroyers with advance radar systems had been deployed — one off the east coast and one off the west coast to track the trajectory of any missile launch.
It was the latest incremental move by North Korea which, incensed at fresh U.N. sanctions and South Korea-U.S. military drills, has issued a series of apocalyptic threats of nuclear war in recent weeks.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday the barrage of rhetoric fitted a “regrettable but familiar” pattern of North Korean behavior.
“We’re taking all the necessary precautions,” Carney said, citing “prudent measures” to respond to the possible missile threat.
The Musudan has never been tested, but is believed to have a range of around 3,000 km, which could theoretically be pushed to 4,000 km with a light payload.
That will cover any target in South Korea and Japan, and possibly even reach U.S. military bases located on the Pacific island of Guam.
The official told Yonhap that the mobile launchers have since been hidden in special underground facilities. “The North is apparently intent on firing the missiles without prior warning,” the official said.
The Pentagon has said it will send missile-interceptor batteries to protect its bases on Guam, a U.S. territory some 3,380 km southeast of North Korea and home to 6,000 American military personnel. Most experts think the North is not yet capable of mounting a nuclear device on a ballistic missile that could strike U.S. bases or territory.
On Thursday, the North Korean Army said it had received final approval for military action, possibly involving nuclear weapons, against the threat posed by U.S. B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers participating in joint military drills with South Korea.
There has been speculation that Pyongyang might schedule a firing to coincide with the birthday of Kim Il Sung, the country’s late founder, in mid-April.
A provocative missile test-fired into the sea over Japan is one scenario that analysts have said the North could choose to exit the crisis with a face-saving show of force.
“A flight test would make sense,” said Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea expert at the International Crisis Group. “But I’d be surprised if they used an untested missile. At this stage in the game, they don’t want to be firing off something that might disintegrate after 30 seconds.”