A new image analysis suggests that North Korea has dramatically sped up the pace of work on construction projects at its main missile launch site.
Commercial satellite photographs taken as recently as May 10 have revealed notable progress on "a number of important construction projects" at the Dongchang-ri rocket site, said image experts Nick Hansen and Jack Liu in a Tuesday report for 38 North.
"While it is too soon to make a definitive judgment on their purpose, one working hypothesis is that the North is building a new complex to conduct future training and launches for mobile missiles such as the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile," the experts said.
Hansen and Liu say their hypothesis meshes with the apparent rocket engine tests of the KN-08 that have been detected in recent weeks and months. North Korea has yet to test-launch the road-mobile missile, but foreign analysts believe it is designed to have continent-spanning flight capabilities. At least three engine tests of the missile are understood to have occurred so far, according to 38 North. Hansen previously said that the next logical step in Pyongyang's development of the long-range missile would be to conduct a flight test.
While the construction projects were observed previously, the recent "rapid pace" of work on them suggests they are a "high priority" for the Kim Jong Un regime, according to 38 North, which is a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. The projects include a large new facility that -- in the space of a little more than a month -- went from having no foundation to having a completed circular level and four additional lower levels on the inside that give it the appearance of an amphitheater from space.
Additionally, a newly cleared area can be seen connected to the circular facility that might be intended for future use as a flat surface for training mobile missile units, the report said.
The May 10 satellite images also show that work to augment a missile launch tower at Dongchang-ri "is continuing at a slower pace than initially projected, possibly because of higher priority work" at other parts of the site, the analysts said. The firing tower previously had been used for the launching of space rockets that have a direct bearing on North Korea's development of ICBMs.
38 North now believes the alterations to the launch tower will not be finished before the middle of the summer, after they were earlier projected to be completed by March or April. This means that no new space rocket launch is likely to occur at Dongchang-ri before the end of the summer, according to the analysts.
This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.