US alarm over new Korean missile threat
Published 18/02/2011 | 05:00
NEW satellite images show North Korea has completed a second long-range missile launchpad.
The images will heighten, anxieties in Washington that Pyongyang's ballistic missile programme is fast becoming a direct threat.
The launchpad is more sophisticated than the country's first facility and strikingly similar to a Chinese site, suggesting Beijing's involvement, according to Tim Brown, an image analyst from military analysis group globalsecurity.org.
Mr Brown said the reclusive North, which insists that its missile programme is peaceful and intended to put a satellite in orbit, was working on development together with Iran and Pakistan.
The facility at Tongchang-ri is equipped with a 100-ft (30-m) launch tower and is located near North Korea's northwest border with China, making it more difficult for US intelligence to observe compared to its Musudan-ri launchpad in the east. The Tongchang-ri site has been under construction for a decade.
Mr Brown, who identified the latest development, said the images were taken about a month ago, and that there were no signs of an imminent test launch. He said it would take weeks, possibly months, to put a rocket on the launchpad.
A South Korean government official also said there were no signs the North was preparing a missile test.
The North is developing the so-called Taepodong-2 missile, with an estimated range of 4,160 miles, but testing so far suggests production of the complete weapon is a long way off.
The North's arsenal already includes intermediate-range missiles that can hit targets of up to 3,000km away, officials say, putting all of Japan and US military bases in Guam at risk.
"The question is, how long it will be before they launch . . . and what kind of vehicle are they going to launch -- a missile or something for their space programme. The answer is we just don't know," said Mr Brown.
He said the site was nowhere near the standard of advanced countries. "But it's as close as a third-world country can come to having a first-world facility," he said.
Mr Brown said the facility was very similar in design to a Chinese site being monitored, adding that Iran, Pakistan and North Korea were working together on missile and nuclear programmes. "We think they all work on different aspects and share and benefit from comparative advantages of each programme."