Website reports major construction at rocket test site

AFP-JIJI

Fresh satellite imagery shows North Korea has embarked on a major new construction program at the facility where it launched a long-range rocket in December, a U.S. research institute said.

The construction includes what could be a possible new launchpad for testing mobile ballistic missiles, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University posted on its 38 North website Friday.

Work has been under way at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, commonly referred to as Tongchang-ri, since the middle of the year, it said.

The station, near the northwestern coast, was the base for the successful Unha-3 rocket launch in December, which was widely condemned in the West as a disguised long-range ballistic missile test banned under United Nations resolutions.

As well as a new road, the rebuilding of a compound for troops and the restart of construction on a permanent radar-tracking system, the new imagery appears to show the construction of a new launchpad, 38 North said.

“While it is too early to identify the exact purpose of this site, one possible explanation is that Pyongyang is building a ‘flat launchpad’, a large concrete area that would be used to test mobile ballistic missiles fired from a transporter-erecter launcher,” it said.

“Alternatively, a modified version of the KN-08 long-range mobile missile could launch small satellites from the pad, although this would probably require a more complex arrangement.

“Rockets fired from this location . . . could travel over 4,000 km before encountering a foreign land mass. This would allow full tests of North Korea’s Musudan rocket.”

The Musudan is a midrange rocket suspected to have a range of over 3,000 km, while the KN-08 has a potential intercontinental range and was first displayed on parade in April 2012.

The construction work at Sohae and a halt last year to construction at the Tonghae facility makes it “unlikely that North Korea will test-fire an Unha or other space launch vehicles over the next six months,” the website said.

Despite international criticism and U.N. sanctions, North Korea has repeatedly made it clear that it intends to pursue a missile program that it sees as a key component of an effective nuclear deterrent.