June 03, 2019 13:05
North Korea is on the verge of completing construction of an underground facility at a solid-propellant missile plant in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province.
The North assembles and stores missile fuselages and engines in various underground facilities, dodging South Korean and U.S. surveillance. "We've detected the completion of a new large underground facility, or expansion of an existing facility, outside the perimeter of the Hamhung missile plant," a military spokesman here said on Friday.
The Hamhung plant has been growing for several years and came into the spotlight last July when the regime was engaged in denuclearization talks with the U.S.
Images from Google Earth show stages of the construction process of the underground facility northwest of the plant. In images from July last year, building materials and dirt were piled up near the presumed entrance, and dirt was piled up on the access road.
But images from this February show that the area had been cleaned up and some parts paved in concrete.
The Hamhung plant is the North's leading solid-propellant missile production base. Solid-propellant missiles are more threatening than liquid-propellant ones because they need less time to fuel and make surprise launches possible.
The short-range Iskander-class ballistic missile North Korea tested recently and the Pukguksong-1, a submarine-launched ballistic missile, are thought to have solid-propellant engines.
"Solid-propellant missiles are more attractive to the North than liquid-propellant ones as they are easier to handle and more effective in operations," said Shin Jong-woo of the Korea Defense and Security Forum. "The North probably needed a huge underground facility for mass production of solid-propellant missiles to dodge surveillance."
It takes 30 to 40 minutes to inject fuel into the liquid-propellant Scud or Rodong missiles, and South Korean defenses aim to strike and incapacitate such a missile within 30 minutes of their detection. But the system cannot beat the five to 10 minutes it takes to fuel a solid-propellant missile.
F-15K fighter bombers or F-35A stealth fighter jets that will soon be combat-ready can strike such missiles before their launch, but they need to get close enough to their targets.
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