News / Asia

More N. Korean Long-Range Rocket Launches Expected 'Soon'

A model of the "Unha-9" missile on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang (Credit: Steve Herman / VOA News 26 July, 2013 Pyongyang)
A model of the "Unha-9" missile on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang (Credit: Steve Herman / VOA News 26 July, 2013 Pyongyang)
Specialists following North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile development concur the reclusive state is nearly certain to continue launching long-range rockets which may be intended to improve its capability to fire weapons of mass destruction.

A North Korean official in Pyongyang last week told VOA News that another launch of the Unha series vehicle will occur “soon” as part of the country's “peaceful use of space.” He did not elaborate.

The latest in the series, the Unha-3, carried the apparently non-functioning Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star) satellite into a low Earth orbit on December 12, 2012.

A floral exhibition, which closed Tuesday in Pyongyang, included several small-scale models of larger “Unha-9” rockets among the flowers, reinforcing the message that North Korea wants its people and the outside world to believe there will be additional launches.

The first mention of the Unha-9 was at a reception for rocket scientists December 21, 2012.

The January 3, 2013 internet edition of the Rodong Sinmun, the Workers' Party official newspaper, quoted a scientist saying there would be six more satellite launch vehicles.  Reports say the Unha 4 and 5 are intended to launch earth observation satellites, Unha 6, 7 and 8 would presumably place into orbit communications satellites and Unha 9 would carry a lunar orbiter.

However, during Saturday's massive “Victory Day” parade in Kim Il Sung Square there were no such representations of launch vehicles beyond the Unha 3.

“I expect regular launches for the foreseeable future,” says Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

At a previous encounter where North Korean officials spoke with academics and others on related topics, Lewis notes he asked “how many launches North Korea planned and what type of satellites they intended to place in orbit, but the officials did not respond to a fairly direct question.”

A recent report issued by the Federation of American scientists concluded that “according to available data, the Unha-3 looks like a typical, slow paced satellite launcher program, producing single prototypes every now and then. A serious missile program would look different.”

There have been indications the North was preparing for rockets larger than the Unha with major construction at the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (the Unha-3 blasted off from the more modern Sohae Satellite Launching Station).

“I haven't seen a clear explanation of what they plan to do with a larger launcher,” says a consultant on the topic to the U.S. Government who asked not to be identified when discussing the subject. He notes North Korea already has a mobile ICBM program and questions why it would really need the capability to boost bigger satellite into higher orbits. “Are they just insisting on a space program as cover for missile technology development?”

New commercial satellite imagery confirms work at Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground remains on hiatus, according to the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

“These projects - the building of a new launch pad, missile assembly building and launch control center - are designed to handle larger rockets than the Unha-3 space launch vehicle (SLV), able to handle heavier payloads and to fly greater distances,“ according to an analysis released by the institute on July 23. “Work slowed and stopped at the end of 2012. While it was expected that construction would continue this spring, new imagery indicates that work had not resumed as of late May 2013, almost eight months later.”

It is unknown why construction has remained halted. Some officials in Seoul and Tokyo point to behind-the-scenes diplomacy involving Beijing for applying pressure on Pyongyang.

The December 2012 launch came in defiance of United Nations' sanctions. The following month the world body expanded its sanctions against the impoverished country, targeting new individuals and North Korea's space agency.

On February 12 of this year, Pyongyang announced its third underground nuclear weapons test.

The U.N. also imposed further sanctions for that action, targeting North Korea's economy and leadership. Significantly China, the main benefactor of Pyongyang, voted in favor of the unanimous Security Council resolution which had been drafted by the United States.
That prompted the most bellicose rhetoric in years from North Korea vowing all-out nuclear war.

The strident threats have virtually evaporated in recent months although there have been no indications from Pyongyang that it will abide by the sanctions and halt its nuclear and missile programs.

“The space launches are part and parcel of the campaign effort to demonstrate that North Korea has become a modern industrial power under the Kim family,” asserts Lewis.

During nine days of interaction in July with the Korean People's Army, officers made repeated references to their country's Juche (self-reliance) ideology, asserting they have been left with no choice but to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles because of the persistent military threat they face from the United States.

North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic ties. Both countries signed an armistice on July 27, 1953 halting three years of combat which devastated the Korean peninsula.

Since then, South Korea, which fully democratized in the late 1980's, has recovered to become the 15th richest country in the world in terms of nominal gross domestic product (GDP).

Meanwhile in the North, a single-party state, absolute leadership has passed to Kim Jong Un, the grandson of the country's founder and eternal President, Kim Il Sung.

Despite having half the population of the South, the North's economy is 1/30th of the size of its neighbor at an estimated 125th place for nominal GDP, between Papua New Guinea and Mauritius, with trade dominated by primary partner China.

VOA correspondent Steve Herman this week concluded a nine-day trip to North Korea

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

US Firms Concerned About China's New Cyber Regulations

New rules would require technology companies doing business in financial sector to hand over their source code, adopt Chinese encryption algorithms More

WHO Focus on Ebola Shifts to Ending Outbreak

Focus to be less on building facilities and more on efforts to find infected people, manage their cases, engage with communities and ensure proper burials More

US Scientist Who Conceived of Groundbreaking Laser Technology Dies

Charles Townes, Nobel laureate, laser co-creator paved way for other scientific discoveries: CDs, eye surgery, metal cutters to name a few technologies that rely on lasers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid