Work at North's airport suggests major missile launch
Satellite imagery of an airfield near Pyongyang suggests North Korea could be preparing another major missile launch, following two recent ballistic missile tests that South Korea and the United States said were experimental launches for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system.
The observation comes as U.S. and Chinese diplomats met in Rome to discuss the regime’s missile launches, in addition to discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and tensions over Taiwan.
A South Korean intelligence source told the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday that Seoul had detected signs that the North was gearing up to launch additional missiles from Sunan Airport, which was captured in the satellite photographs.
Analysis of the runway shows that the North has been laying down concrete surfaces since March 5, with the area covered expanding and later decreasing in what analysts say could be an attempt to disguise the launch location.
According to Bruce Bennett, a defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, in an interview with Voice of America on Monday, the concrete strips recently spotted via satellite were likely aimed at reinforcing the surface of the runway to prevent damage caused by the weight of a transporter erector launcher (TEL) and engine ignition, as well as to ensure the missile trajectory was not compromised by a faulty launch surface.
“This is an extraordinarily heavy TEL, if it's fully fueled. How often do you put a strip of concrete in between runways or taxiways?” Bennett said. “When the engine cuts in, it's putting tremendous pressure on the surface underneath the missile. And if it gets up on some dirt road or something, they're risking that the missile will wind up taking off on a bad trajectory.”
Observations of the North’s possible launch preparations came as U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Chinese official Yang Jiechi in Rome, Italy to discuss a range of issues in U.S.-China relations.
While much of the seven-hour meeting, described as “intense,” focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the pair also discussed North Korea, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Obviously, we have serious concerns about the recent escalatory actions that we have seen from the DPRK,” the official said in a telephonic press briefing, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
“[Sullivan] was clear with Director Yang not only about those concerns, but also about the steps that we believe are necessary in this moment and the work that we hope to be able to engage with China on,” the official added.
Yang is a Chinese Community Party Politburo member and director of the office of the foreign affairs commission.
Two of North Korea’s recent missile tests — on Feb. 27 and March 5 — were touted by the regime as satellite development tests.
They were later said by Washington and Seoul to have been experimental launches for a new ICBM. Washington placed fresh sanctions Friday on two Russian individuals and three entities for enabling North Korea's weapons program.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]