Experts say an undeclared North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile base near China detected by satellite imagery indicates Pyongyang has expanded its locations from which it can deploy long-range missiles to attack the American mainland.
North Korea has diversified the missiles in its arsenal, as evidenced by the 11 missiles tested in January. He tested what he called hypersonic missiles, tactically guided missiles, cruise missiles and an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of hitting the US territory of Guam. He stopped short of testing an ICBM.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry boasted on Tuesday of its ability to strike the United States “Only our country on this planet can shake the world by firing a missile with the American continent within reach. “, said Pyongyang.
All the while, North Korea has been scrambling to expand a base from which it can deploy ICBMs for wartime use, experts analyzing satellite images reported by the Center for Studies say. Strategic and International (CSIS) this week.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, said commercial satellite photos indicate Pyongyang is ready to station ICBMs at the Hoejung-ni missile base in Chagang province after testing them several times in 2017. The province borders China’s Jilin and Liaoning provinces.
Possible ICBM deployment
“This is not a sign of an ICBM test,” Lewis said, referring to satellite photos indicating the base’s completion. “It’s a sign that North Korea is deploying ICBMs. … It’s a base of operations to use the missiles in a war.”
He continued: “The [ICBM] the tests they conducted in 2017 validated two ICBM designs. They’re probably deploying some of these ICBMs there, which is why we saw the big increase in construction in 2018.”
North Korea tested three ICBMs in 2017 and conducted its sixth nuclear test, drawing widespread condemnation from the international community.
“Although construction began nearly 20 years ago,” the CSIS report said, “the Hoejung-ni Missile Operating Base represents one of the last Strategic Forces bases to be completed.” North Korea’s strategic forces include short-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
Joseph Bermudez, one of the report’s authors and principal investigator for imagery analysis at CSIS, said, “This missile operating base would be selected for ICBM deployment.”
Of North Korea’s roughly 12 missile bases, two to three are for ICBMs, according to Lewis.
Ian Williams, deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at CSIS, said the missile base shows North Korea is expanding the locations from which it can launch attacks.
“What we’re seeing is North Korea building a number of locations that they can fire missiles from,” Williams said. “By spreading [the bases] Additionally, you can make them more resistant to attacks and harder to destroy before they launch.”
The Hoejung-ni missile base is in the remote rugged mountains of the north-central province of Chagang. North Korea launched its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile from the province on January 30.
“The more enemy territory you have to cross to get to your target, generally considered a bit harder” to attack, Williams said.
“It’s always a tough challenge for North Korea to keep its missiles invulnerable to attack” because it’s a small country, “which I think is one of the reasons they’ve diversified not only their locations, but also their delivery platforms”. he said.
To protect the emplacement of its weapons, North Korea has launched missiles from trains, submarines, and road mobile carrier (TEL) erector launchers.
Proximity to China
Experts also noted the location of the base, which, 25 kilometers from the Chinese border, acts as a deterrent to an American or South Korean attack.
Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation, said that “having the base near China will make the ROK/US less likely to launch a preemptive attack on the base due to the risk that a missile or ROK/US aircraft attacking the base could accidentally enter Chinese territory and start a war.” “ROK” stands for Republic of Korea, the official name of South Korea.
David Maxwell, senior researcher at the Foundation of Defense for Democracies, said: “If the United States assesses that this is an ICBM launch base and will be used to strike the United States , it will be attacked independently of [a] possible response” from China.
VOA’s Korean service contacted the Chinese embassy in Washington and North Korea’s mission to the UN for comment, but received no response.
In response to the CSIS satellite report, US Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Martin Meiners told VOA’s Korean service that the US does not speak on “intelligence matters or image analysis commercial”.
“However, we have been very clear about the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s missile programs and our commitment to defending the Republic of Korea, Japan and the American homeland,” said Meiners, who used the official name of North Korea in his speech. response on Tuesday.
Responding to Korea Service VOA’s question on Wednesday about North Korea’s ICBM base, Deputy Principal State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said, “The United States has a vital interest in deterring the DPRK.”
Porter continued, “This includes defending against its provocation or use as a force, limiting the scope of its most dangerous weapons programs, and most importantly, protecting the American people, deployed forces, and our allies. “
Young Gyo Kim contributed to this report.