One of the world's foremost analysts of North Korea's ballistic missile
programs says reports of missile engine testing at a newly revealed
facility appear credible. As VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin
reports, North Korea is apparently able to test its missiles under more
realistic conditions than ever.
South Korean media have
been reporting this week, indications North Korea may have tested
engines for some of its largest and longest-range missiles earlier this
Joseph Bermudez is a senior analyst with the Jane's group
of defense and intelligence publications. He says the test would be
consistent with North Korea's decades-old missile development program.
Korea has routinely conducted ballistic missile engine, space launch
vehicle engine, testing for the past 10-15 years. It would not be
unusual that they would do that now," he said.
The tests are
suspected to have taken place at a facility Bermudez took the lead in
making public this week. A report published by Jane's Defence Weekly
features satellite photographs of a 10-story missile tower and launch
pad, located in a Southwestern region of North Korea. Bermudez says
North Korea probably began building it about eight years ago.
North Korean missile and space launch facility near Pongdong-ni is the
most advanced North Korean launch facility to date," he said.
says North Korea has usually tested missile engines by separating them
from the body of the missile that would carry it. He says the new
facility may make future tests more realistic.
appears that it could actually test the engine while it's in the
airframe. What this does, it gives you an additional capability to
test how your subsystems will react to the vibrations and possibly heat
of the engine," explained Bermudez.
North Korea has devoted
abundant resources and attention to missile development since the
1970s. It is believed to have about 800 missiles, most of them
short-range weapons capable of reaching Japan and South Korea. In
2006, Pyongyang tested a long-range missile theoretically capable of
reaching the United States, but it failed less than a minute after
That long-range test took place just a few months
before North Korea conducted a test explosion of its first nuclear
weapon. Bermudez says the nuclear and missile programs are designed to
complement each other.
"North Korea wants nuclear weapons, and it wants to mount those... on its ballistic missiles," he said.
security experts believe North Korea may be able to reach the United
States with a ballistic missile by about 2012, under the most favorable
set of conditions. Mounting a nuclear weapon on a long-range missile
and delivering it accurately is a far more complex task. Whether
Pyongyang might achieve that remains a matter of speculation.