July 03, 2018 10:32
North Korea is suspected of expanding a major missile manufacturing facility even as it pursues dialogue with the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
Based on recent satellite imagery from Planet Labs, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the U.S. discovered that the North was completing a major expansion of a missile plant in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province in the run-up to the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore last month, the daily reported.
No new building was spotted at the plant until April, when the inter-Korean summit was held, but it seems most of the construction work was done in May and June, researchers Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler said.
The Hamhung plant produces solid-fuel ballistic missiles that could strike U.S. military facilities anywhere in Asia.
Most North Korean ballistic missiles use liquid fuel and take some time to get ready for launch, but solid-fuel missiles can be fired more spontaneously.
The North's main solid-fuel ballistic missile capable of striking U.S. military bases in Asia is the Pukguksong-2. With a range of more than 2,000 km, it has the U.S. Forces Japan's bases on the main Japanese islands and Okinawa within reach. This plant also reportedly produces reentry vehicles that would be used for the warheads of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
After the summit in Singapore last month, U.S. President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised to dismantle a ballistic missile test site, which he touted as a major achievement.
But Pyongyang is clearly pursing dialogue with Washington in tandem with its own weapons development program. "The expansion suggests that, despite hopes for denuclearization, Kim Jong-un is committed to increasing North Korea's stockpile of nuclear-armed missiles," Schmerler said.
Kim visited the plant last August and told officials to speed up the production of solid-fuel rocket engines.
The regime operates two more missile manufacturing facilities nearby, the institute believes.
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