North Korea appears to be expanding a missile base in a remote, mountainous part of the country, according to new commercial satellite imagery studied by independent researchers.
The base, located near the Chinese border, is believed to be capable of housing long-range missiles that could, in theory, hit the United States. Researchers say they see clear signs that the base is being upgraded.
“They are constructing hardened drive-through shelters for the vehicles that would carry the long-range missiles,” says Catherine Dill, a senior research associate with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, which conducted the analysis. “And they are also constructing tunnel entrances.”
Dave Schmerler, a research associate at Middlebury who worked on the imagery, says it’s not clear whether the missiles have actually been deployed to the site.
According to imagery from commercial providers such as Planet and Google Earth, the construction appears to be taking place at the existing facility, the Yeongjeo-dong missile base, and a second site, known as Hoejung-ri, around 7 miles away. It’s unclear whether the new site is an extension of the existing base or an entirely new one.
Either way, the evidence clearly shows that the North is continuing to expand its missile capabilities, Dill says. Last year, North Korea tested long-range missiles that put the entire continental United States within range. Separately, the North also tested a powerful nuclear weapon.
The North officially suspended its testing around the time of a summit in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But that voluntary moratorium did not apply to the bases that might house the missiles, Dill says. At these facilities, construction appears to be continuing apace. “They started construction before the Singapore summit and they’ve continued it since then,” Dill says.
The bases are believed to serve as shelters for mobile missile launchers. If North Korea came under attack, the trucks could be fueled and armed in hardened underground facilities. They would then drive to any one of a number of predetermined sites and fire their missiles at the enemy.
This is the second missile base to be spotted by independent researchers in recent weeks. Last month, a separate group found an active missile base that was not widely known to the public. That base is believed to house much-shorter-range missiles than the base announced Wednesday.