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Analysts Concerned by Possible N. Korean Mobile Missile Development

  • Baik Sungwon

U.S. defense analysts say construction progress at a North Korean missile launching station northwest of Pyongyang could be a major development.

Satellite images published by the website 38North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at John’s Hopkins University, indicate Pyongyang is almost finished with activity at the country’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

The post says analysis indicates the communist country this year completed its fourth series of tests of the KN-08 mobile ICBM first stage rocket motor.

38North concluded that if the engine tests are over, “the next stage in development of the KN-08 road-mobile ICBM may be full-scale flight tests of the missile.”

The mobile part is what worries defense analysts in the United States the most.

Bruce Bechtol, Associate Professor of Political Science at Angelo State University said in a telephone interview with VOA Korean service that the KN-08 will be revolutionary.

“It’s an absolute game changer,” said Bechtol. He added, “it takes away the warning time that the United States, South Korea, and Japan have every time there is a long-range missile launch.”

Many defense analysts agree developments on the Sohae station suggest Pyongyang aims to have longer-range missiles capable of targeting the U.S. mainland. 38 North predicts the modifications to be completed by 2015.

RAND Corporation Senior Analyst Bruce Bennett said, “The North wants to be able to put the United States in jeopardy to both raise its visibility and debate with the United States.”

But one expert noted the biggest threat is if North Korea can put a long range missile on a mobile platform, making it harder for the U.S. to prevent an attack before it was launched.

“A fixed installation is not useful as an attack mechanism,” said Gen. Burwell Bell, former commander of U.S. forces in Korea. “In other words, if they begin to load a missile onto that, it would be vulnerable to attack.” He said the U.S. can effectively counter missile attacks from such facilities.

The U.S., South Korea and other nations have been calling on North Korea to give up its missile and nuclear weapons programs, which have led to international sanctions against the regime in Pyongyang.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.

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