- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP): North Korea has quietly built a long-range missile base that is larger and more capable than an older and well-known launch pad for intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to independent analysts relying on new satellite images of the site and other data. Analysts provided images of the previously secret site to The Associated Press.

Construction on the site on North Korea’s west coast began at least eight years ago, according to Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., senior analyst with Jane’s Information Group, and Tim Brown with Talent-keyhole.com, a private satellite imagery analysis company. Bermudez first located the site in early spring and they have tracked its construction using commercial and unclassified satellite imagery.

“The primary purpose of the facility is to test,” Bermudez told The Associated Press in an interview last week. A base capable of a long-range test could obviously be used in wartime to launch a missile that carried a warhead.

“This is a clear indication North Korea is continuing its ballistic missile development program,” Bermudez said.

Bermudez is also unveiling the images on the defense web site Janes.com and in the Sept. 17 edition of Jane’s Defence Weekly.

He said the launch pad has been operational since 2005 but has not yet been used. He believes North Korea wants to use it to develop longer-range and more accurate ICBMs. It could also launch satellites into space.

Although North Korea has been long thought to want additional missile capability and test facilities, this is the first public disclosure of the new launch facility, according to Bermudez, Brown and John Pike, an imagery analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, who first reviewed the information last week.

Pike said the new facility represents a major step forward for North Korea’s long-range missile program as it would allow multiple test flights in a short time, which is difficult at the smaller, original long-range missile launch site known as Musudan-ni.

“This would be a facility to conduct a real flight-test program and develop something that you have some operational confidence in,” Pike told the Associated Press. “It would suggest they have the intention to develop the capability to perfect a missile to deliver atomic bombs to the United States.”

“At the old facility, (a robust test program) just wasn’t going to happen,” he said.

Pike and Brown identified Musudan-ni 18 years ago when they were both with the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

A U.S. counterproliferation official said U.S. intelligence has been aware of the North Korean site for several years. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified information.

North Korea has not used the new site, but could at any time, U.S. intelligence officials and the outside analysts said.

“There is no reason they couldn’t launch in the near future,” Brown told The Associated Press.

Construction has continued even as the U.S. government renewed its attempt to persuade North Korea to shut down its nuclear weapons program. Those negotiations do not address North Korea’s long-range missile program, but would give North Korea much-desired economic and political incentives in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons.

The deal’s future may be in doubt with news this week that Kim Jong Il, who has held absolute rule in the impoverished, isolated Stalinist regime, may have been incapacitated by a stroke or other health crisis. North Korean authorities deny he is ailing.

The new launch facility exceeds in both size and sophistication the Musudan-ni base on North Korea’s east coast, images from DigitalGlobe and GeoEye suggest.

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