29 January 2016
Pyongyang may be preparing for no less than a space launch, US officials told the media, citing recently obtained satellite imagery of a site around the Sohae Satellite Launching Station – and it may come sooner than later.
Recent movement of components and propellant could indicate that North Korea is considering a rocket launch in the near future, unnamed US officials told Reuters.
“Our concern though
is that they do a
space-launch, but really
it’s the same technology to
develop ICBMs,” one of
the officials said, adding
that the launch could
happen in a couple of
“The indications are that they are preparing for some kind of launch… Could be for a satellite or a space vehicle – there are a lot of guesses,” the official said. “North Korea does this periodically – they move things back and forth... There’s nothing to indicate it is ballistic-missile related.”
Concerns that North Korea may be preparing to launch another missile were first voiced by Japan’s Kyodo news agency on Thursday. The report, citing an unnamed Japanese official, said that the launch may be only a week away. The conclusion was based on an analysis of satellite imagery of North Korea’s Tongchang-ri missile test site on its West coast, where the Sohae Satellite Launching Station is located.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency has reported that there had been screens established at key locations, possibly aimed at countering spy satellite surveillance. Automated activity and rail set-ups have been observed, the agency said, citing government sources.
A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman refused to comment on whether there were any on-going preparation activities, but pointed out that North Korea had previously give a heads-up before launching long-range rockets and warnings about its navigation activity.
“We believe that North Korea could launch grave provocations by surprise – without pre-warning – from now on,” South Korean defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. “In the past, North Korea always fired a long-range missile ahead of a nuclear test. But since it didn’t this time, we are concerned that it could launch one.”
North Korea says that it is entitled to manage its own space program and its rocket launches are intended to send satellites into space.
US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, said earlier that he might be looking into changing a US Aegis missile defense test site in Hawaii into a combat-ready facility so that the US could better protect it from ballistic missile attacks. Harris also suggested that a mobile missile system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense should be introduced in South Korea, emphasizing that the proposal should be discussed between the two countries.
The last space launch by North Korea took place in 2012, when, according to its state-run news agency, DPRK, the Kwangmyongsong-3 weather satellite was put into orbit. However, the West suspects that this was a veiled ballistic missile test.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation that would impose stricter sanctions on North Korea in response to its fourth nuclear test, which took place in early January. An independent investigation is still working to confirm whether it was, indeed, a hydrogen bomb that had been tested, as Pyongyang claimed. However, it has been confirmed across the world that a powerful test launch of some sort took place.