SEOUL – North Korea has been repeatedly moving multiple missiles around in an apparent bid to confuse outside intelligence gatherers ahead of an expected launch, Yonhap reported Thursday.
According to intelligence analysis cited by the South Korean news agency, two midrange Musudan missiles have been repeatedly moved in and out of a warehouse facility in the eastern port city of Wonsan.
At the same time, at least five mobile launch vehicles have also been spotted swapping positions in South Hamgyeong Province. They are believed to be launch platforms for short-range Scud missiles, which have a range of 300 to 500 km, and medium-range Nodong missiles, which can travel 1,300 to 1,500 km.
“There are signs the North could fire off Musudan missiles any time soon,” an intelligence source said. “But the North has been repeatedly moving its missiles in and out of a shed, which needs close monitoring.”
Another source suggested Pyongyang was hoping to “fatigue” South Korean and U.S. intelligence gatherers who have been on a heightened state of surveillance alert since Wednesday.
The midrange missiles mobilized by the North are reported to be untested Musudan models with an estimated range of anywhere up to 4,000 km. That would cover any target in South Korea and Japan, and possibly even U.S. military bases on the Pacific island of Guam.
“North Korea . . . with its bellicose rhetoric, its actions, has been skating very close to a dangerous line,” U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday. “Our country is fully prepared to deal with any contingency, any action that North Korea may take or any provocation that they may instigate.”
North Korea has proved quite adept at confounding intelligence monitoring in the past.
Its long-range rocket launch in December had been widely flagged in advance and was subjected to intense satellite scrutiny. In the end, the rocket blasted off hours after a succession of South Korean media outlets, citing satellite imagery analysis by government, diplomatic and military sources, suggested the launch was facing a lengthy delay.
Yonhap news agency had quoted military officials as saying the entire three-stage Unha-3 carrier had been removed from the launchpad and returned to a nearby assembly facility for repair.
Various Japanese news outlets on Thursday reported defense officials confirming that at least one of the North Korean mobile launchers had placed its pad in a launch-ready position. The reports also said that such moves could be deliberate attempts by North Korea to sow confusion and did not necessarily indicate a launch was imminent.
Although Pyongyang has not announced any launch, many analysts believe it will take place during the buildup to the birthday anniversary of late founder Kim Il Sung on April 15.
State media said foreign delegations had already begun arriving in Pyongyang for the event.