New Signs Point to North Korea Prepping for Road-Mobile Missile Tests

Missiles are displayed during a military parade in Pyongyang in April 2012. Recent satellite images suggest North Korea is preparing a comprehensive testing program for its mysterious new road-mobile, long-range ballistic missile.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
Jan. 30, 2014, 9:49 a.m.

North Korea ap­pears to be ready­ing one of its rock­et sites for a vig­or­ous test­ing pro­gram that could in­volve the coun­try’s mys­ter­i­ous new stra­tegic mis­sile.

Re­cent satel­lite im­ages sug­gest that a po­ten­tial tri­al of the KN-08 mis­sile’s rock­et en­gine oc­curred at the Dongchang-ri mis­sile site between late last month and early this month, the spe­cial­ist web­site “38 North” said in a Wed­nes­day ana­lys­is.

Sur­veil­lance pho­to­graphs taken as re­cently as about a month ago show what could be the first stage of the KN-08 mis­sile and a crane that po­ten­tially would have been used to lift the weapon’s en­gine onto the launch plat­form. Sub­sequent im­ages taken on Jan. 9 show the “pos­sible rock­et stage, vehicles and crane are no longer present,” writes im­age ana­lyst and re­port au­thor Nick Hansen.

Hansen also points to the ab­sence of snow in front of the flame trench on Jan. 9 that could have been melted either by the en­gine be­ing fired up or by warm­er weath­er. All of these signs amount to “lim­ited evid­ence” that an en­gine test has oc­curred, he said.

The KN-08 has yet to be flight tested. While earli­er ver­sions of the sus­pec­ted in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile dis­played at parades ap­pear to have been crude mockups, mod­els seen in sub­sequent mil­it­ary dis­plays look to have been bet­ter de­signed. This is a pos­sible in­dic­a­tion that North Korea is mak­ing pro­gress in re­fin­ing its road-mo­bile bal­list­ic mis­sile, ac­cord­ing to in­de­pend­ent ex­perts.

U.S. Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence Dir­ect­or James Clap­per in a Wed­nes­day brief­ing to the Sen­ate said North Korea ap­pears to have “already taken ini­tial steps” to field the KN-08, des­pite the weapon be­ing un­tested.

The signs picked up by 38 North — a pro­ject of the U.S.-Korea In­sti­tute at Johns Hop­kins Uni­versity — sug­gest that Py­ongy­ang could be plan­ning a test­ing pro­gram at Dongchang-ri for the KN-08 and sep­ar­ate space launch vehicles. In­dic­a­tions in­clude:

— the con­struc­tion of two 45,000-gal­lon con­tain­ers that could be in­ten­ded for hold­ing fuel for mo­bile mis­siles;

— the place­ment of a per­man­ent dish an­tenna that could be in­ten­ded for track­ing mis­sile flight paths; and

— the build­ing of what ap­pears to be two flat pads of a form tra­di­tion­ally util­ized for launch­ing mo­bile mis­siles.

All of this build­ing work, which has been on­go­ing since last sum­mer, is  “con­sist­ent” with in­ten­tions to use the mis­sile site as a train­ing and fir­ing fa­cil­ity for Py­ongy­ang’s “new gen­er­a­tion of re­gion­al and in­ter­con­tin­ent­al-range mo­bile mis­siles,” 38 North con­cluded.

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