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Experts: Near-complete North Korean missile facility proves Pyongyang continues ICBM development

A North Korean missile launch. (DoD/Released)
May 07, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A Washington think tank report that North Korea is “nearing completion” of a ballistic missile facility capable of accommodating Pyongyang’s entire ballistic missile arsenal highlights the modernization and expansion of the country’s ICBM program despite global efforts to stop it, experts said Wednesday.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Tuesday revealed the near-complete Sil-li Ballistic Missile Support Facility, citing satellite imagery.

According to CSIS, the site, located near Pyongyang International Airport, includes a high bay building capable of housing any of North Korea’s known ballistic missile types in its arsenal. It also was built near an underground facility large enough to fit all known North Korean missiles, including launchers and support vehicles.

“Taken as a whole, these characteristics suggest that this facility is likely designed to support ballistic missile operations,” the report said.

“As such, it is another component of the North Korean ballistic missile infrastructure that has been undergoing both modernization and expansion during the past 10 years,” it added.

The images likely confirm that North Korea has continued to “develop and expand its ballistic missile infrastructure,” according to CSIS’ senior imagery analyst Joseph Bermudez, who wrote the report.

“There has been no slow down at all that we can detect at present,” Bermudez told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday.

“It is part of North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile structure and it needs to be addressed at any future North Korean and US discussions,” he added.

“What it does however is to bring this to the public light to discuss the issue in a more informed manner, it helps citizens of South Korea influence South Korean policy [toward North Korea], and it does the same thing here in the United States, [and in] Japan, Russia, and China,” he said.

“To inform the public on the characteristics of North Korean ballistic missile threats is important, because the public influence the policy, and the policy ultimately influence the diplomatic development between the world and North Korea,” he added.

The continuing development of Pyongyang’s missile capabilities is in line Kim Jong Un’s 2017 promise to produce ICBMs on a large scale, Michael Ellerman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies told RFA.

“In short, the article highlights North Korea’s efforts to build up its strategic missile forces, and is consistent with Kim Jong Un’s pledge at the end of 2017, where he boasted that North Korea would begin serial production of its long-range, nuclear-armed missiles,” the non-proliferation and nuclear policy director said.

“The building of missile support facilities suggests that long-range missiles are being produced at pace.  However, questions about the operational viability and reliability of its long-range missiles remains an open question, as too few test launches of Hwasong-14 and 15 missile prototypes have been undertaken,” Ellerman added.

The two prototypes were first tested in 2017, with several analysts saying both designs could potentially have the capability of hitting the United States.

A South Korean expert told RFA that while the site indicates that North Korea has not stopped its missile infrastructure development efforts, the facility serves to defend only the Pyongyang Airport.

“It seems that North Korea is continuously trying to strengthen and develop short, medium, and long-range ballistic missile capabilities since ‘the completion of nuclear weapons’ in 2017,” said Park Young-ho, the Director of the Peace Research Institute Seoul, referring to language used by Kim Jong Un in an April 2018 declaration that North Korea had built a bomb and would stop nuclear tests and launches of ICBMs, ahead of his historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that month.

“Since the facility is located near Pyongyang Sunan Airport, it can be seen as a missile base to defend the Sunan Airport in the event of military crisis,” said Park.

RFA contacted South Korea’s Unification Ministry, and a spokesperson said only that the ministry was aware of the CSIS report but declined to comment further, saying that it would not be appropriate for the ministry to speak publicly about information related to North Korea’s military.

Meanwhile, the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office, told RFA says it was not aware of the report.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State declined to comment on matters of intelligence.