North Korea Completes 2nd ICBM Launch Facility

[imText1]North Korea appears to have successfully completed its second ICBM missile launch site.

According to a South Korean government official who confirmed the news this morning, “We believe that the construction of the launch tower at the Dongchang-ri Launch Base, which began in 2001, has been completed.”

The news was first revealed yesterday by Voice of America, citing Tim Brown, the senior fellow with ‘Global’ who first found the facility on satellite images in 2008 while it was still under construction.

“Little by little, they’ve been getting closer and closer to having an operational site,” Brown told VOA. “We can now say, I think confidently, that the launch tower and the launch pad are basically finished.”

The new site appears to be a considerable advance over North Korea’s original missile launch facility at Musudan-ri in North Hamkyung Province, and with facilities including a rocket engine test stand, launch bunker and an observation tower, it is said to take North Korea a step closer to having the ability to reliably launch an ICBM which can reach the U.S. mainland.

“A sophisticated launch site like this is amazing compared to the old site, which was nothing more a place they go when the weather was right to launch their missiles. This is actually a dedicated launch center,” Brown said.

It is difficult to see the news having a positive effect on the dynamic of dialogue between North and South Korea, which is back in neutral after the breakdown of last week’s military-to-military meeting at Panmunjom.

“North Korea begging for food while completing a missile launch base and such like looks pretty two-faced,” Kim Hee Sang, president of the Korea Institute for National Security Affairs, told The Daily NK today. “As long as the Kim Jong Il system continues, this type of thing will not change.”

However, the South Korean government official was quick to point out that there is no evidence of the North planning to use the facility, at least for the moment. “There are no signs that North Korea is preparing to launch a missile,” the official said, pointing out, “We see the likelihood of North Korea carrying out a missile launch or nuclear test in the middle of making calls for food aid as not great.”