News / Asia

Satellite Imagery Suggests Future Large N. Korean Rocket Launch

Victor Beattie

The U.S.-Korea Institute has released satellite photographs indicating North Korea may be nearing completion of construction and testing leading to long-range missile and satellite launches.  The images were made public Tuesday as the top U.S. Navy Pacific commander cautioned the global community against indifference to the pace of the North’s advances in nuclear and missile technology.

Satellite imagery

The U.S.-Korea Institute’s 38 North website released satellite imagery Tuesday suggesting that activity at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station means it is preparing for long-range ballistic missile and satellite launches.  It said the height of the gantry for launches has been increased to over 50 meters and expects construction of an associated rail spur and road to accommodate larger rockets will be complete next year.

The website said another series of tests of the KN-08 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile’s first stage rocket motor could end this year, although how successful those tests are remains a mystery.  It also expects full-scale flight testing will be the next step.

The KN-08 was unveiled during a military parade in Pyongyang in April, 2012, although analysts were divided whether it was a mock-up, rather than real missile.  In December of that year, the North sent a satellite into orbit on a multi-stage launch vehicle.

Ralph Cossa, head of the Hawaii-based security think-tank Pacific Forum, said, if the report is accurate, it is a sobering development. "If they develop a road-mobile missile, that increases their offensive capabilities, increases the survivability of their nuclear force, and I think it’s something that we have to take very seriously," he said.

Timing, long-range missiles

Cossa, however, believes North Korea is a long way from having an operational, long-range intercontinental missile with a nuclear warhead.

At U.S. defense headquarters at the Pentagon Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said there is broad debate within the intelligence community about how much capability North Korea has to weaponize long-range missiles.

"As a military commander, I have to plan for the worst and I have to plan for, number one, what the North Koreans say they have, and they say they have it, and what they demonstrate what they might have when they show it to us.  And, from those indications, we have to show that we’re properly postured to protect not only our homeland, which includes all of our territories and the state of Hawaii, where I happen to be, but also that we’re able to provide defense and security for our allies and our key partners in the region," he explained.

Locklear said he believes North Korea continues to make progress in both their nuclear and missile capability and that they continue to want to do that.

Strained relations

The admiral also expressed concern that the global community is becoming numb to the amount of testing the North does.

"The long-term concern about North Korea is that, every time they do something that the international community has told them not to do, particularly as it relates to missile technology or nuclear technology, you have to assume that it is a step forward in technology.  Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be doing it.  The concern I have is that it becomes, over and over again you see it, and you become somewhat numb to it, you become immune to it, and you start saying, ‘Well it’s not such a big deal.  They fired another missile last week.’  But, on the long-term view for North Korea, we have to continue to demand that they denuclearize, and they stop their missile program in the fashion they have it today.  Will they?  I don’t know," stated Locklear.

He also expressed concern about strained relations between allies South Korea and Japan stemming from Tokyo’s militarist past and occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century.

"The political issues between South Korea and Japan, and as their governments and people deal with them, do have an impact on our ability to conduct credible military-to-military engagement with each other.  It is very important that the Japanese and the South Koreans recognize that they have many mutual security interests that can be benefited by a bilateral and trilateral military-to-military cooperation," Locklear noted. "They have a common concern, a huge common concern with North Korea, and that we encourage them to work together to overcome their political difficulties so we can work to provide a better security environment in this region."

He said both South Korea and Japan are not capable of full information-sharing in such areas as missile defense today because of restrictions of a political nature each has in place.  He said that degrades mutual security.

The Pacific Forum’s Brad Glosserman sees little chance of improvement in bilateral relations. "It’s a very difficult slog [journey].  I mean, at this moment, the lack of political will at the highest levels of the Japanese and [South] Korean leadership is remarkable," he said. "You have fatigue in Japan, a sense that South Korea is more interested in focusing on the past and thinking about what Japan has done and could do in the future.  You have a political climate in South Korea that feels the Japanese are an untrustworthy partner."

Glosserman said it is unfortunate that the populist rhetoric in South Korea over Japan’s new collective-defense posture announced July 1 is overblown.  He said the extent of Japan’s ability to take part in peacekeeping missions and aid regional allies, including the United States in the event of a crisis, is overblown and would actually improve the regional security climate.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs