North Korea may use east coast launch site for ICBM test, think tank says
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea may use a launch site on its east coast to test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, a U.S. think tank said.
Jitters have been high after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said earlier this month his country is in the “final stages” of developing an ICBM. That would be a major step toward its goal of targeting the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile.
38 North, a website that monitors the isolated communist state’s activities, said Monday that a relatively new launch site near Kalma International Airport would be a “logical choice.”
The base, which opened in May or June, already has been used to test four medium-range, road-mobile missiles known as Musudans, said the site, which is run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
“In addition, recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that Pyongyang has made a number of improvements at the site suggesting that it could support an ICBM launch if the North decides to go ahead,” said the analysis by military expert Joseph Bermudez.
The test site consists of a paved launch position surrounded by a sand berm, grading for a second firing position and graded access roads. It also is supported by components at the adjacent airport, including radars that could be used to track missile flights and ensure the airspace is clear of traffic, according to the website.
“During the past three months, several of the access roads have been re-graded and laid with gravel, suggesting preparation to handle missiles heavier than the Musudan [intermediate-range missile] like an ICBM,” it added.
A small pad also has been graded and gravel laid, and the second launch position appears to have been re-graded, although not paved. That would allow for simultaneous launches of ballistic missiles.
North Korea frequently conducts missile tests or other activity in connection with high-profile events, raising fears it could act to test the new U.S. administration under President Donald Trump.
South Korean military officials told the Yonhap news agency last week there are indications the North has placed two presumed ICBMs on mobile launchers, although that report has not been confirmed.
Last year, Pyongyang carried out two underground nuclear explosions and an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests, defying international condemnation and increasingly tightened U.N. Security Council sanctions.