December 11, 2019 10:39
South Korea and the U.S. have stepped up surveillance and reconnaissance activities to monitor North Korea's preparations for the possible launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
According to flight tracker Aircraft Spots, an E-8C Joint Stars ground surveillance aircraft of the U.S. Air Force flew over the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday morning. It did the same on Dec. 3.
The North last Saturday conducted what appears to have been a liquid-fuel engine thrust test at a long-range missile launch site in Tongchang-ri near the Chinese border.
There are signs that it has already moved a three-stage rocket from a missile factory in Sanum-dong in Pyongyang to an assembly facility at Tongchang-ri.
Military authorities speculate that if Tongchang-ri is chosen for the launch, it will be a long-range rocket carrying a satellite rather than a straightforward intercontinental ballistic missile.
The regime launched its Unha or Kwangmyongsong-class long-range rockets from the 67 m-high fixed launch pad at Tongchang-ri. But ICBMs have been launched from mobile launchers since 2017.
The only difference between an ICBM and a space rocket lies in what is mounted on the tip. If it succeeds in launching a new long-range rocket carrying a reconnaissance satellite that is larger than previous dummies, the North will be able to mount a bigger warhead on an ICBM.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo belatedly voiced a warning to the North during a press conference in Sydney. He expressed "deep concerns" over the engine test at Tongchang-ri.
Meanwhile, the Air Force here now has a fleet of 13 F-35A stealth fighter jets after taking delivery of another three from the U.S. on Monday.
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