Seoul: Recent satellite images show that
North Korea has completed a launch tower at its new missile
base, a key step in efforts to test a missile which could
eventually reach the United States, experts say.
An image taken on January 10 of the Tongchang-ri base on
the west coast shows a moveable launch pad and swing arms
along with the tower.
It was disclosed by Voice of America News this week and
was posted on the website of US defence information group
The new base is seen as a major step in the North's quest
for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could
possibly strike the United States, GlobalSecurity.org said.
It is bigger and more advanced than the Musudan-ri base
on the east coast, which the North used to launch long-range
missiles in 1998, 2006 and 2009.
The North has enough nuclear material for an estimated
six to eight weapons but it is unclear whether it has the
technology to create a nuclear warhead for a missile.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned last month that
North Korea could have missiles within five years that would
directly threaten the United States.
Work at Tongchang-ri has been monitored for more than two
years and South Korean officials said in October 2009 that
construction was near completion. But the latest images were
the first to show a launch tower.
Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst with the
International Crisis Group, said Tongchang-ri clearly had more
facilities to support a missile development programme than the
relatively "primitive" Musudan-ri.
"It demonstrates their commitment to an ICBM programme,"
he told AFP today, "considering the cost of the programme, the
small size of their economy and their technical capabilities.
"If they are going to dedicate such resources, it's a
sign they are serious about using the launch base," Pinkston
said, adding that a test-launch is possible this year.
The North's first long-range test in 1998 sent a
Taepodong-1 missile over Japan but failed to put a satellite
in orbit. A Taepodong-2 exploded after 40 seconds after launch
In April 2009, another Taepodong-2 travelled some 3,200
km (1,984 miles) to land in the Pacific.
That launch, and a nuclear test a month later, brought
fresh UN sanctions including a ban on missile and
Inter-Korean relations are icy after two deadly border
incidents last year blamed on Pyongyang. Six-party nuclear
disarmament talks have been stalled since December 2008 and
Washington is resisting appeals for direct dialogue.
First Published: Thursday, February 17, 2011, 21:50