A U.S. research institute said Friday, November 29, it has detected new construction at a North Korean missile launch site which the institute says is being upgraded to handle larger rockets.
Commercial satellite imagery shows work has resumed after a months-long hiatus at Tonghae, on the country’s northeast coast, on what looks like a rocket assembly building and a launch control center.
The findings were provided to AP ahead of publication by 38 North, the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
It is the latest sign that North Korea is pressing ahead with its nuclear and missile programs despite declaring its willingness to resume aid-for-disarmament negotiations.
Overhead photos have also indicated the North restarted a mothballed plutonium reactor in late August, and is working to upgrade its other main missile launch site at Sohae.
But 38 North says a rocket test does not appear imminent at either launch site.
Assessing the intentions of North Korea’s secretive regime and the nation’s technical capabilities is notoriously difficult. The conclusions are based on analysis of imagery by Nick Hansen, a retired intelligence expert who closely monitors developments in the North’s weapons programs.
Sohae, which lies on North Korea’s west coast, has been used for its recent major launches, including the firing of a three-stage rocket into space last December. That launch was viewed by the U.S. as a worrying marker in the North’s development of ballistic missile technology.
While the Obama administration is making diplomatic progress on some of the Mideast’s thorniest security issues, problems are piling up in Asia, a region that President Barack Obama had wanted to play a bigger part in American foreign policy.
Despite efforts to forge deeper ties with China to make East Asia more stable, Beijing’s declaration of a maritime air defense zone has escalated its territorial dispute with U.S. ally Japan. The U.S. responded by flying B-52 bombers through the zone on a training mission Tuesday, November 26, without informing Beijing.
Analysts say the risk of a military clash between the Asian powers has gone up a notch — a serious concern for the U.S. because its treaty obligations mean it could be drawn in to help Japan.
Meantime, relations between America’s core allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, have deteriorated. “The region is moving in a very problematic direction,” said Evans Revere, a former senior U.S. diplomat and East Asia specialist. “That’s the result of territorial disputes, historical issues, long-standing rivalries and the inability of countries to put history behind them and move forward in improving relations.”
Adding to this witches’ brew of bickering in the region, Washington is grappling with the threat posed by an unpredictable North Korea. The deal the U.S. orchestrated with Iran to temporarily freeze its nuclear program, despite three decades of animosity, is a stark reminder of the impasse in negotiations with Pyongyang.
Unlike Iran, North Korea already has a nuclear bomb, and there’s worrying evidence it is pressing ahead with weapons development.
Analysts expect Vice President Joe Biden to broach these issues when he travels to Japan, China and South Korea this week — a trip to demonstrate that the top level of the administration remains focused on Asia.
South Korea arms procurement agency said Wednesday, November 27, that it will finalize a deal of importing the Taurus air-to-ground standoff cruise missiles for its F-15K fleet next month.
According to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), it reported to the military decision-making committee, chaired by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, that it will conclude the contract including a classified number of the missiles in December.
Taurus Systems, a German-Swedish joint venture, welcomed Korea’s decision.
“We are pleased to have won South Korea as customer for Taurus KEPD 350 and are proud to have earned the government’s trust with this state-of-the art and technologically convincing product,” said Christoffer Drevstad, vice president of Taurus Systems.
“Since we are now capable of performing long-range strikes against deeply buried and reinforced targets, launched far away from enemy threat, the survivability of the fighter and its crew will be greatly improved while the missile will be an effective deterrence against war,” said a military official.
The GPS-guided cruise missiles can hit strategic targets such as nuclear and missile bases with precision.
If launched above the central city of Daejeon, where the headquarters of three military branches are located, they can hit an underground bunker in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
The modular stand-off missile is capable of performing deep penetration missions with pinpoint accuracy, making it ideal for taking out hard targets such as underground installations and bridges.
In addition, the Taurus has three independent navigation systems ― terrain reference, imagery, and GPS ― that makes it very resistant to any form of jamming.
The acquisition of the strategic strike weapon is one of the few times that Korea has purchased from a non-U.S. supplier. Currently, the only long-range missiles in the Air Force’s inventory are 40 SLAM-ER missiles with a range of 278 kilometers.
The CM-400AKG supersonic cruise missile designed by Aviation Industry Corporation of China — an export version of China’s YJ-12 anti-ship missile — can be used successfully against India’s aircraft carrier when launched by Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder fighter, reports the Moscow-based Russian Military Analysis website.
The CM-400AKG was demonstrated to the public for the first time during the Zhuhai airshow last year. The YJ-12 was originally designed to be used against multiple targets including US aircraft carriers with a combat range of 500 kilometers and can be carried by various platforms such as bombers like the H-6 and JH-7, fighter jets such as the J-11B, J-15, J-16 and Su-30MKK and Type 052D destroyers. However, the range of the CM-400AKG has been reduced to 250 kilometers to meet export restrictions of the international Missile Technology Control Regime.
The missile can be launched when the aircraft reaches speeds of between 750 and 800 kilometers an hour, the report said. The speed of the Chinese supersonic cruise missile is between mach 3.5 to mach 4. It can be equipped with high-explosive and armor-piercing warheads. Insiders said that the missile was designed for the FC-1 Xiaolong also known as JF-17 Thunder, a fighter jointly developed by China and Pakistan.