SEOUL, March 10 (Yonhap) — South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol vowed Thursday to strengthen strategic alliance with the United States, build a strong national defense to deter North Korean provocations and pursue a future-oriented relationship with Japan, hours after winning the nation’s closely contested presidential election.
Yoon of the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP) was elected president earlier Thursday with the smallest-ever 0.73 percentage-point gap over liberal Democratic Party (DP) candidate Lee Jae-myung.
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol speaks in a news conference at the National Assembly on March 10, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)
Apparently aware of the razor-thin victory, Yoon emphasized national unity and close cooperation with the DP controlling the National Assembly in a news conference held soon after his election win.
On diplomacy, Yoon said his priority policy goal is to solidify South Korea’s status as a global pivotal country to contribute to freedom, peace and prosperity, based on dignified diplomacy and strong national security.
He promised to reconstruct South Korea-U.S. alliance and strengthen comprehensive strategic relationship with Washington by sharing the core values of human rights, market economy and human rights.
Earlier, Yoon talked with U.S. President Joe Biden on the phone prior to his visit to the Seoul National Cemetery and they affirmed strong bilateral alliance and close cooperation, according to PPP officials.
Biden congratulated Yoon on his election win and invited him to visit the White House during the 20-minute conversation, they said.
Yoon emphasized the need for stronger cooperation over North Korea’s provocations, while Biden said that the U.S. is closely monitoring the situation in North Korea and that close coordination among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo is important for policies on Pyongyang, they said.
Biden was the first foreign leader to personally congratulate Yoon on his election, they added.
The White House also confirmed the two leaders’ phone conversation, saying they affirmed the strength of Seoul-Washington alliance and committed to maintain close coordination on addressing the threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Yoon also mentioned his phone talks with Biden in the news conference, saying the U.S. leader expressed a wish for a summit meeting soon after his inauguration to discuss further development of the bilateral relationship.
“I cannot disclose all the details of my conversation with the U.S. president here. I received his congratulations on my election win,” Yoon said.
Yoon said he is determined to build a future-oriented relationship with Japan.
“In relations between South Korea and Japan, it is important to find out what will be beneficial to both countries and to the people of both countries in the future rather than in the past,” the president-elect said.
South Korea and Japan have long been at odds over territory and other historical disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
On relations with China, Yoon said he will promote a bilateral relationship of mutual respect.
On North Korea, Yoon said he will “sternly” respond to any illegal or unreasonable behavior by the country “in accordance with principles,” but the window of conversation with Pyongyang will “be always left open.”
He then vowed to build a strong national defense that can reliably deter any provocations from the North in order to protect the people’s safety and property and his nation’s territory and sovereignty.
“We also face the task of strengthening our global diplomatic capabilities amid the North Korean nuclear threats and growing tensions over U.S.-China strategic competition,” Yoon said.
Yoon also made comments on domestic political situations, saying he will only trust and follow the will of the people.
“I will solely trust the people and follow their will,” he said.
“(The election results) constitute a call for reform, and the restoration of justice and common sense as well as the people’s desperate appeal to do politics of unity, not division,” Yoon said.
Yoon faces a daunting challenge of how to work with an unfriendly National Assembly controlled by the DP and heal deep national divisions laid bare in one of the most bitter political campaigns in recent memory.
Including the DP, the liberal bloc holds some 180 seats in the 300-seat Assembly. Without their help, Yoon’s presidency could end up in a “vegetative” state unable to pass key agenda items until the next parliamentary elections in 2024.
Yoon said the current National Assembly controlled by the DP may offer an opportunity for the nation’s democracy and politics to become much more mature.
He again stressed cooperation with the DP during a disbandment ceremony for the PPP’s election committee at the National Assembly in the afternoon.
Regarding the economy, the president-elect promised to turn away from a government-led economy toward a human-oriented one so as to create jobs and beef up the middle class.
“I will keep away from any forces or ideologies that threaten the free democracy and adhere to the common sense of the people in running the nation,” he noted.
SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) — The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) has completed the deployment of the newest Apache attack helicopters to South Korea, its aviation unit said, as the allies have stepped up joint efforts to counter Pyongyang’s evolving military threats.
In a Facebook post last Friday, the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade said that the process to deploy the latest AH-64E Version 6 helicopters to Camp Humphreys, a main USFK base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, was completed two days earlier.
It did not specify the number of helicopters, but the U.S. Army said on its website last month that a total of 24 helicopters would be deployed to South Korea through the end of this month in the first overseas delivery of the new version of the Apache aircraft.
“This AH-64E V6 is far superior to prior generations when you take into consideration its lethality, its survivability, its performance and its maneuverability,” Lt. Col. Peter Schmitt, commander of the 4-2 Attack Helicopter Battalion under the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, was quoted as saying.
In November, the Pentagon announced the results of its global defense posture review, which included a decision to permanently station a previously rotational Apache attack helicopter unit along with artillery division headquarters in South Korea.
A U.S. Apache helicopter is parked at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, in this photo captured from the U.S. 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade’s Facebook account. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
SEOUL, Feb. 8 (Yonhap) — U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) chief Gen. Paul LaCamera visited an American air unit equipped with high-end guided bombs last week to ensure “fight-tonight” readiness, his office said Tuesday, amid tensions caused by recent North Korean missile launches.
In a Facebook post, the USFK showed a series of photos depicting him looking at a set of formidable weapons systems, like the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), during his visit to the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base in the western city of Gunsan on Friday.
The apparent show of American military heft came as Pyongyang has carried out a series of missile launches, including the test-firing of what it called an intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile on Jan. 30.
“They visit (the unit) to ensure our formations remain disciplined, focused and maintain a high level of ‘fight tonight’ readiness so we can fulfill our obligation to protect and defend the Republic of Korea against any threat or adversary,” the USFK wrote on Facebook.
U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) chief Gen. Paul LaCamera visits the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base in the western city of Gunsan on Feb. 4, 2022, in this photo from a Facebook account of the USFK. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
Though the USFK said the commander “routinely” visits such U.S. installations in South Korea, his trip apparently served as a message of deterrence against potential North Korean provocations, observers said.
In yet another display of American airpower, a U.S. Air Force photo, posted on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, showed a KC-135 aerial refueling plane engaging in a training session near Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, last Wednesday.
An aerial tanker is required for longer-distance military operations in a potential contingency on the Korean Peninsula.
Speculation has lingered that the North could stage yet another show of force, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch, particularly in time for its key political events — the 80th birthday of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s late father, Kim Jong-il, on Feb. 16 and the 110th birthday of his late grandfather Kim Il-sung on April 15.
On Monday, Beyond Parallel, a project of the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, issued an analysis report on a North Korean missile base close to the border with China, which it said could house a regiment-sized unit equipped with ICBMs.
Citing recent satellite imagery, the report said that should operational ICBMs not become available in the near term, the North is likely to deploy intermediate-range ballistic missiles to the site in Hoejung-ri in the northwestern province of Jagang.
Located 338-kilometers north of the demilitarized zone and only 25-kilometers from the Chinese border in Chagang Province, the Hoejung-ni missile operating base will, according to informed sources, likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
Should operational ICBMs not become available in the near term, it is likely that intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) will be deployed. A Hwasong-12 IRBM was launched from Chagang Province on January 30, 2022.
North Korea is not known to have ever made specific references to the existence of the Hoejung-ni missile operating base. This is the first in-depth open-source reporting confirming the ICBM base, though previous reports of an older base at Yongjo-ni surmised of its existence.1
Although construction began almost 20 years ago, the Hoejung-ni missile operating base represents one of the latest Strategic Forces bases to be completed.
This long construction timeline suggests a considerable level of prior development planning that is rarely appreciated and was likely linked to projected ICBM developments and basing needs.
The base is one of approximately 20 ballistic missile operating bases that have never been declared by North Korea. Additionally, it does not appear to have been the subject of any denuclearization negotiations previously conducted between the United States and North Korea.
The Hoejung-ni (회중리) missile operating base is located in Hwapyong-gun (화평군, Hwapyong County), Chagang-do (자강도, Chagang Province), 280-kilometers northeast of Pyongyang, 338-kilometers north of the demilitarized zone, 420-kilometers northeast of Seoul and 1,285-kilometers northwest of Tokyo. Notably, the base is also located 25-kilometers from the border with China and 15-kilometers northwest of the older Yongjo-ni (영저리) missile operating base.2
The overall layout and design of the Hoejung-ni base are different than from those of older missile operating bases and more closely aligned with those of the Sangnam-ni missile operating base. The timing of the construction of these two bases suggests that their construction may have been sequenced, Sangnam-ni being first, as part of a third phase in North Korea’s development of its strategic or rear ballistic missile belt.3 This missile belt is itself a component of an extensive and growing nation-wide dispersed ballistic missile network subordinate to the Strategic Force—the Korean People’s Army (KPA) organization responsible for all long-range ballistic missile units.
Although construction began almost 20 years ago, the Hoejung-ni missile operating base represents one of the latest Strategic Forces bases to be completed. The fact that construction of it began so long ago suggests not only significant resource constraints, but also a considerable level of development planning that is rarely appreciated by outside experts and was likely linked to projected ICBM developments and basing needs.
According to informed sources, the KPA unit that will eventually be based at Hoejung-ni will be equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Should operational ICBMs not become available in the near term, it is likely that the unit will be equipped with intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) – a Hwasong-12 IRBM was launched from Chagang Province on January 30, 2022. When this occurs, the unit will represent a vital component of what is presumed to be North Korea’s evolving ballistic missile strategy, expanding existing strategic-level deterrence and strike capabilities. Until more is known, however, the latter capability should be characterized as a “potential” or “emergency” launch capability as the true operational status of North Korea’s various ICBM programs and the units equipped with them remain among the critical unknowns concerning the Strategic Force.
North Korea is not known to have ever made specific references to the existence of the Hoejung-ni missile operating base and its national designator is unknown.4 The provisional title of Hoejung-ni missile operating base is derived from its location adjacent to the small town of Hoejung-ni, sometimes identified as Hoejung-dong.
While construction has proceeded at a somewhat slower pace than other missile operating bases, it has been steady and logically sequenced. Satellite imagery as of January 21, 2022, indicates that—similar to the Sangnam-ni missile operating base—the Hoejung-ni base will likely house a regiment-sized missile unit. The base is active and well-maintained by North Korean standards, and minor development of the base’s infrastructure is continuing.
Hoejung-ni missile operating base (41.369883, 126.913631) encompasses approximately 6 square kilometers and extends approximately 4 kilometers up a small, isolated wooded mountain valley running in a generally north-to-southeast direction. The valley itself is on the south side of the Taehoedong-chon (대회동천, Taehoedong stream). This valley is bisected by a meandering stream, has several small branch valleys, and is flanked on the east, west, and south by three mountains—the Chongsok-san (청석산, Chongsok Mountain), Hoeyang-san (회양산, Hoeyang Mountain) and Hyeondo-san (현도산, Hoeyang Mountain). Most of the area encompassed by the base consists of unoccupied tree-covered mountains and a few small agricultural and forestry activities that support the base. Located immediately outside of the base are the village of Hoejung-ni and the Hoejung-ni railroad station, both of which undoubtedly provide some level of support to the base.
As of January 21, 2022, the base can be functionally divided into six general activities: entrance and security; headquarters and administration; hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities (sometimes referred to as missile support facilities); primary underground facility; secondary underground facility; and a variety of small housing, support, and agricultural support activities.
Located adjacent to the Hoejung-ni railroad station at the base of the valley is the base’s entrance and checkpoint (41.384978, 126.906453). It consists of two large structures, one small structure, and a greenhouse. It has remained unchanged since late-2019. An inactive (likely abandoned) rail spur line branches off the main Hyesan-Manpo-Chongnyon rail line approximately 1.3 kilometers east (41.385879 126.922805) of the base’s entrance and checkpoint. The spur runs approximately 725-meters in a curving southwest direction before terminating (41.383043 126.915528) just outside the presumed perimeter of the Hoejung-ni missile operating base. This spur line is unlikely to have contributed to its development and, unless extended, will not contribute to future operations.
What is believed to be the base security headquarters compound is located approximately 400-meters up the valley road (41.382416, 126.909427). It consists of seven administration and housing buildings, a greenhouse, small motor vehicle maintenance facility, storage facility, two circular gardens, and a formal base entrance sign erected over the road at the south end of the area (such signs are often seen at important KPA bases). Since December 2019, the area has witnessed only minor changes.
The base’s headquarters and administration compound is located approximately 900-meters up the valley (41.378688, 126.910740) and consists of approximately 20 large and medium-sized buildings (including a small greenhouse and large cultural education hall with monument) and a parade ground/football pitch. Its size and layout are similar to those seen at other missile operating bases. Immediately south of the area is a small agricultural support compound with four buildings. In addition, sometime between 2015 and 2017, a small communications facility (41.377742 126.923232) was established on a lower peak of the Hoeyang-san, 1.1 kilometers east of the headquarters and administration compound—to which it is connected by buried cable. Since 2017, these activities have witnessed only minor changes.
Located approximately 2-kilometers up the valley, on the west side of the stream, are the base’s two hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities (41.370204 126.912578 and 41.368924 126.913694). These are used for missile arming, fueling, systems checkout, and maintenance operations. Each facility consists of a large concrete-reinforced shelter cut into the side of the adjacent mountain; the shelter measures approximately 35-meters-long, has a 25-meter opening at each end, and is covered with soil and rocks with vegetation planted on top. The length and size of the openings are of sufficient size to accommodate all known, and likely planned, KPA ballistic missile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL), mobile-erector-launchers (MEL), transporter-erectors (TE), and missile support vehicles and equipment. It should be noted that reported KPA wartime ballistic missile doctrine calls for these launchers to exit the base to conduct launch operations.5 The maturing vegetation consisting of trees and bushes on top of each structure makes it increasingly challenging to locate them using commercial satellite imagery in all but winter months, during which long shadows also provide a challenge.
Located on the east side of the stream across from the drive-through facilities is a large motor vehicle maintenance and support facility (41.370537 126.913751) for the unit’s support vehicles.
To support movement across the stream and through these facilities, two reinforced concrete deck bridges were constructed during 2008-2010. The first bridge, approximately 21-meters-long-by-7.5-meters-wide, is located approximately 200-meters northeast (41.370998 126.913043) of the exit to the northern drive-through facility. The second bridge, approximately 11-meters-long-by-7.5-meters-wide, is located approximately 730-meters southeast (41.367516 126.922529) of the southern entrance to the drive-through facility.
The imagery acquired during the construction of the two hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into the KPA’s construction sequence and timing for these distinctive facilities.
Construction Sequence for the Hardened Drive-Through Missile Checkout Facilities
Excavation operations have begun for the northern facility
Concrete walls had been poured at the northern facility
Excavation operations have begun for the southern facility
Roofs have begun to be poured at northern facility
Walls poured for southern facility
Roof on northern facility approximately 75% complete
Roof on southern facility approximately 40% complete
External construction and back filling of northern facility complete
External construction of southern facility complete and backfilling ongoing
Construction and both facilities complete and the planting of trees and bushes on both facilities for camouflage and concealment was ongoing
Vegetation on top of both facilities mature enough to provide moderate camouflage and concealment
Approximately 2.5-kilometers up the valley, built under a mountain west of the stream, is the base’s primary underground facility (UGF) with two entrances—northern (41.366821 126.919889) and southern (41.365287 126.915955). The direct line distance between the two entrances is approximately 375-meters. However, given what is known concerning large North Korean UGF construction, it is likely about 450-meters-long and potentially longer. The openings for both entrances are approximately 6.25-meters-wide and, like the drive-through facilities, can accommodate all known and likely planned launchers and missile support vehicles and equipment. Located approximately 30-meters in front of the northern entrance is a soil and rock protective berm measuring approximately 38-meters-long and supported by a concrete wall facing the entrance.
Located southwest of the northern UGF entrance and approximately 400-meters southwest of the northern UGF entrance, up a branch valley extending to the south, is the southern UGF entrance consisting of the entrance portal and a small soil and rock bridge with a culvert. Approximately 150-meters further south of this entrance is a small sawmill (41.364011 126.915273) with a small bridge over the stream. This sawmill has been visible in all imagery, and piles of woodchips are occasionally observed during the summer months.
What appears to be a second UGF (41.365161 126.928513) is located approximately 3.4-kilometers up the valley on the east side of the stream. Excavation of this facility began sometime during 2016-2017 once a bridge across the stream was built. To facilitate this activity, two small support areas were established adjacent to the entrance and on both sides of the stream. The growth of the spoil piles indicates that excavation continued until about 2020, and an image from January 21, 2022, shows no significant activity on the spoil piles or at the portal since that time. This suggests that excavation is either complete or has been suspended.
There are several unorthodox aspects to the location and construction of this facility that have led some informed sources to argue both for and against its use as a UGF, with some suggesting that it is a small mining facility.
While other North Korean ballistic missile operating bases often have UGF entrances near small fordable streams, none have UGF entrances directly on a stream or require a bridge immediately outside the portal to access them. Having either of these characteristics increases the facility’s vulnerability to neutralization from even minor artillery, missile, or air strikes.
Almost all North Korean ballistic missile operating bases have large protective berms in front of their UGF entrances to help protect them from attack. To date, this facility has none, and it is unlikely that an effective one could be built on the west side of the stream.
While most existing bases have wide radius turns, the road leading from this facility has a tight 90° turn radius that could present a challenge for ICBM launchers to navigate, especially for longer towed transporter-erectors.
No North Korean missile operating bases have active mining operations within their confines.
A final determination as to the intended function of these facilities remains elusive.
In addition to the above activities, since at least the early-1970s and until the present, small agricultural and forestry activities (many often transitory) have been observed in satellite imagery dispersed along the length of the valley and on the adjacent slopes where the Hoejung-ni missile operating base would be built.6 Today, those agricultural and forestry activities within or adjacent to the current base’s presumed perimeter are likely used to support the base.7
As of January 21, 2022, the base is active and being well-maintained by North Korean standards. As best as can be determined from satellite imagery, informed sources, and what little data is available, the base is ready to receive an operational ICBM unit.
The organizational relationship between the Hoejung-ni and Yongjo-ni missile operating bases is unclear. However, it would not be unusual for both bases being in the same geographic area to be subordinate to the same intermediate headquarters beneath the Strategic Force headquarters.
As noted above, informed sources indicate that a KPA ballistic missile unit equipped with ICBMs will be based at Hoejung-ni sometime in the future. As of January 2022, there are no indications that this unit is present. The reasons for this are likely some combination of the following:
While much of the base appears to be externally complete, minor construction is ongoing and the final installation of equipment (and potentially minor construction) of the primary UGF may be ongoing.
There are challenges manufacturing finished ICBMs which are operational qualified, as opposed to those for test and evaluation. This is likely a result of both supply chain constraints and competition for limited resources among various programs and design bureaus.
There are issues revolving around the supply of sufficient numbers of fully trained missile operators and support personnel and limited opportunities to train with operational missile systems. However, this latter factor may be easing, given the recent missile launches during late-2021 and early-2022.
Similar to the Sangnam-ni missile operating base, the layout, organization, and size of the infrastructure visible in satellite imagery of Hoejung-ni suggest that the base will eventually house a regiment-sized unit consisting of a headquarters, small service elements, and several firing batteries. With this said, it should be noted that the organizational structures of KPA ballistic missile units may not neatly fit into western organizational structures.
Due to the strategic importance of the KPA’s ballistic missile operating bases and concerns of either pre-emptive or wartime airstrikes against these facilities, most missile operating bases have some level of organic air defense capabilities, are within the coverage of the national air defense missile shield, or both. This does not appear to be the case with the Hoejung-ni missile operating base. There are no readily identified fixed anti-aircraft artillery positions within 10-kilometers of the base and the nearest readily identifiable surface-to-air missile base (an SA-2/S-75 Dvina unit) is at Kanggye 50-kilometers to the southwest. However, it is likely that when a ballistic missile unit is finally stationed at the base, it will possess an organic air defense unit equipped with both light AAA and shoulder fired air defense missiles (e.g., SA-7, SA-14, SA-16, etc.). The nearest Korean People’s Air Force (KPAF) airbase is the Manpo-up Airfield 53-kilometers to the southwest. As it is dirt-surfaced and houses an An-2 transport unit, it provides no support to the Hoejung-ni missile operating base.
The author first became aware of what is now identified as the Hoejung-ni missile operating base during a conversation with an informed source in the early 2000s—shortly after the first signs of construction were observed.8 From that time until 2018, no public information of significance concerning the facility was available. In 2018, Dave Schmerler and Jeffery Lewis published a blog posting on the Yongjo-ni base that also described the Hoejung-ni facility.9
The location selected for the Hoejung-ni base is within a small, isolated wooded mountain valley adjacent to the Hoejung-ni railroad station on the south side of the Taehoedong-chon (대회동천, Taehoedong stream). This valley is bisected by a stream and flanked on three sides by mountains. Prior to the commencement of base construction, only minor agricultural activity around a tiny agricultural hamlet of about 34 structures, and minor logging operations scattered further up the valley were present.
As best as can be determined from satellite imagery, construction of the Hoejung-ni missile operating base began sometime prior to 2003—perhaps as early as the late-1990s. The earliest readily available clear high-resolution satellite image of the area, collected on May 6, 2003, shows that the base entrance and checkpoint consisted of main and support buildings on the south side of the Hoejung-ni railroad station and along the road leading up the valley. Further up the valley, two support and construction worker housing areas support the construction of a nearby underground facility. It is believed that many of the construction personnel stationed here at this time were specialized engineering troops from the KPA’s Military Construction Bureau.10 As noted above, the timing of this construction may be related to the construction progress at the Sangnam-ni missile operating base, which had progressed to a point that permitted the release of a portion of the specialized engineering troops from the KPA’s Military Construction Bureau to begin work excavating the Hoejung-ni base’s UGF.
The 2003 image shows that the first support and construction worker housing area was located approximately 2.5-kilometers up the valley road on both sides of the stream at the intersection of the main valley and a branch valley. It consisted of approximately 55 structures of various sizes and types (livestock pens, greenhouses, housing, etc.). Among these were four square compounds for worker housing and equipment storage. Most notable, however, was evidence of the earliest stages of excavation for two entrances to an underground facility.11 At the northern entrance adjacent to the support area, excavation, grading, and construction of the concrete portal for the UGF are visible. The southern entrance was located 400-meters to the southwest of the northern entrance, up a branch valley extending to the south. Located here were the portal on the east side of a small stream, four structures of various sizes on both sides of the stream, and a soil and gravel access road with culvert across the stream. Approximately 150-meters further up this branch valley was a small sawmill with a small bridge over the stream. At both UGF construction sites, excavated spoil was being spread out locally.
Located approximately 3.1-kilometers up the main valley road was the second support and construction worker housing area that consisted of five compounds of various sizes with a total of approximately 35 structures (e.g., worker housing, equipment storage, agricultural support, and a sawmill). These were distributed on both sides of the stream and connected by one road bridge and two small footbridges.
Imagery collected on June 13 and December 10, 2005, show that construction of two hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities had commenced and that construction operations at the two UGF entrances were expanding by this time.
Located approximately 2-kilometers up the main valley on the west side of the stream, excavation for the first of two hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities had begun during early 2005. By December 10, 2005, construction on the first facility had reached the stage where concrete walls had been poured, and excavation for the second had recently begun. The excavated soil and rock were placed adjacent to the construction sites to be used for future backfill and overhead cover of the two facilities. To support this construction activity, a construction worker housing and support area was built on the east side of the valley, and a small ford across the river was reinforced with soil and rock excavated from the facilities. The housing and support area consisted of approximately 25 structures of various sizes and shapes (including a motor vehicle maintenance and storage facility).
In the December 10, 2005, image, a concrete portal had been built at the northern UGF entrance, fresh spoil pile activity was observed being deposited 40-meters from it, and six small structures had been built. At the southern UGF entrance, a concrete portal was under construction, a small walled compound on the west side of the stream had been built, the number of small structures on both sides of the stream had increased to 17, and a soil and rock bridge had been built across the stream. The beginning of a spoil pile was observed approximately 120-meters north of the portal on the east side of the stream.
Elsewhere in the base, the 2005 imagery shows only minor activity typical of what would be expected, such as the addition of a wall around the support building at the main entrance, razing or construction of small agricultural-related structures, etc.
Three satellite images collected during November and December 2006 show that progress was slowly continuing at the two hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities. Most noticeable was that the first-stage excavation for the second facility had been completed, and several concrete walls had been poured. A November 15, 2006, image shows that construction work on the UGFs was continuing, as evidenced by expanding spoil piles and activity at both portals. At the northern portal, activity was observed on the hillside above it, and a concrete wall had been erected approximately 35-meters in front of it. The latter would serve as the face of a protective berm being built from the rock and gravel being excavated from inside the facility. At the southern portal, a finished concrete portal was now visible, and a small footbridge had been built. The same November 15 image shows the first signs of activity at the second support and worker housing area for what would become a second UGF. A small temporary bridge was erected across the stream to the east bank.
Two years later, an image collected on April 15, 2008, shows continued progress on the two hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities, with much of the concrete roofing on the first facility having been poured, and progress being made on pouring the walls and portions of the concrete roof on the second facility. To support future operations of the drive-through facilities, construction of a concrete road bridge approximately 200-meters northeast of the northernmost drive-through facility had recently begun, while a second concrete road bridge located approximately 730-meters southeast of the southern drive-through facility was partially complete. Rock and gravel excavated from both drive-through facilities were used to build up the shoulders of the bridges and banks along the stream.
The two years between 2008 and 2010 witnessed significant development of the Hoejung-ni missile operating base, as indicated by a satellite image collected on February 22, 2010.
As far back as 2003, the area 400-meters up the valley road from the entrance was simply cultivated fields. By February 2010, however, a small new housing and support area consisting of ten new buildings had been erected. The location, layout, and type of buildings suggest that this area was being developed into a compound for the base’s security headquarters and housing.
Approximately 375-meters further up the valley road, all but five of the 34 structures had been razed and a new support building erected at the small unnamed agricultural hamlet. This area would subsequently be developed into the missile base’s headquarters and administration area with barracks, support buildings, and a cultural education hall.
The satellite image acquired on February 22, 2010, shows that both hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities had been externally completed, back filling of the northern facility had been completed, construction of southern facility had been completed, and backfilling operations were ongoing. Both were approximately 35-meters-long and had 12-meter-wide openings at both ends. Internal work, however, would likely continue for some time afterward. In addition, construction of the reinforced concrete deck bridges supporting the hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities was completed sometime during 2008-2010. This, in turn, allowed for the nearby reinforced ford to be removed and restored to its original status.
This same February image shows that major excavation and construction activity on the primary UGF had apparently been completed, although interior work undoubtedly continued for some time. All but nine of the structures composing the support and construction worker housing area adjacent and across the stream from the northern UGF entrance had been razed. Additionally, all the spoil from the excavation had been graded out to form a raised area and bank for the stream and the protective berm in front of the entrance measuring approximately 38-meters-long had been completed. About all that externally remained to finish was the planting of trees and bushes on the slope above the entrance. Likewise, at the southern UGF entrance, all but one structure had been razed, and the spoil graded out north along the stream. The sawmill further up the branch valley, however, remained.
Further up the valley, at the location where a second UGF would be soon built, a satellite image acquired on February 22, 2010, shows that most of the original worker housing and agricultural support buildings had been razed, leaving three buildings and seven smaller structures. The small temporary bridge across the stream had been removed.
With much of the heavy construction work on the hardened drive-through facilities and UGF completed by 2010, the need for large numbers of workers decreased, and construction activity at the base shifted to less demanding operational infrastructure development.
A satellite image collected on December 19, 2015, shows that at the base entrance and checkpoint, both original buildings had been razed and replaced with a new building and large greenhouse. The only notable change at the base security compound was the construction of two large circular gardens. Such gardens are often observed at major military and industrial facilities near headquarters or administrative areas. Further up the valley, the headquarters and administration area had undergone significant development since 2010. By 2015, four large headquarters or administration and four smaller housing or support type buildings had been built, and a cultural education hall was under construction.
The same December 2015 image shows that both hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities were now covered with additional soil, and trees and bushes had been planted. A small building had been built at the southeast corner of the northern facility, and a somewhat larger building constructed 30-meters east of the southeast corner of the southern facility. Two new buildings were constructed across the stream from the northern facility, including a sizeable motor vehicle maintenance and storage facility in the previously razed worker housing and support area.
In the area around the northern entrance to the primary UGF, significant changes had occurred. At the razed support and construction worker housing area, 22 new structures were built, including a barracks compound, agricultural support compound with a large greenhouse, and a large building adjacent to the UGF entrance. In addition, the vegetation on the hillside above the entrance had taken root and appears to have been added to. No significant changes were observed at the southern UGF entrance and the nearby sawmill.
Further up the valley where a second UGF would soon be built, the December 19, 2015, image shows that significant changes had taken place. Six new support buildings had been built in the previously razed worker housing and agricultural support area. Immediately to the south and across the stream, there were some minor changes to the few remaining support buildings, including the addition of a new greenhouse. Significantly, construction had begun on a permanent concrete bridge at the same location as the earlier temporary bridge. Interestingly, no discernable activity was noted on the east side of that earlier bridge from 2006 until 2014. This suggests that this earlier bridge was likely used to support engineering investigation for the forthcoming excavation and bridging.
Two years later, an October 8, 2017, image shows no changes at the base entrance and checkpoint. However, numerous changes had taken place at the base security headquarters compound. One building was razed and replaced by a larger L-shaped building, two additional buildings (including a second L-shaped building) had been built, landscaping in and around the previously noted circular gardens had been completed, and a greenhouse and small pond had been built. Five satellite images from 2018 and 2020 show that the buildings used as housing or offices had been razed and then replaced by four large ones and that both a formal entrance sign over the road had been erected and a small motor vehicle storage facility had been built at the south end of this area. An image acquired on October 16, 2019, shows that two buildings had been added to the entrance and security compound. Since then, satellite imagery shows that only very minor changes have occurred in the entrance, checkpoint, and security compound.
At the base headquarters and administration area, the October 2017 satellite image shows that construction of the cultural education hall had been completed, and two monuments were erected. Most of the small temporary buildings previously seen here had been replaced by larger permanent buildings—some of which were barracks. Several additional support buildings had been erected—including two at the small support area immediately to the south. This brought the number of structures in the area to approximately 20. Since then, satellite imagery shows that the area has witnessed only minor changes such as the construction or razing of small structures.
Sometime between 2015 and 2017, a small communications facility was established on a lower peak of the Hoeyang-san 1.1 kilometers east of the headquarters and administration area. This facility consists of a repurposed forestry building with a small parabolic antenna. It is connected to the headquarters and administration area via buried cable. The facility hasn’t witnessed any significant changes since that time.
While some internal work at the hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities likely continued for some time, by October 8, 2017, both were completed and covered with additional soil, with trees and bushes planted. Since then, only minor changes have been observed. The growth of trees and vegetation on top of the facilities has made it increasingly challenging to locate them using commercial satellite imagery in all but winter months.
At the entrances to the primary UGF, no changes of significance have been observed in satellite imagery from 2017 to the present. However, as with the hardened drive-through facilities, the growth of trees and vegetation on the slopes above the entrances has made it increasingly challenging to locate them using commercial satellite imagery. The same is somewhat true for the protective berm in front of the northern entrance.
At the second UGF, the image from October 8, 2017, shows that a 9-meter-by-6.5-meter concrete bridge had been completed, and excavation on the east side of the stream had begun. Two bridge abutments were poured on the west side of the bridge and most of the spoil from the excavation activity are seen being spread out in a fan shape between these abutments. A second smaller spoil pile was also observed approximately 25-meters south of the bridge on the east side of the stream.
The following year, a September 22, 2018, image shows that both the main and secondary spoil piles had doubled in size and that several small structures had been built in the support area on the west side of the stream and a large building built in the support area across the steam to the east. By March 10, 2019, these small structures had been razed, a gravel road had been laid across the main spoil pile to the bridge, a concrete portal to the UGF had been built, and the spoil piles continued to grow slowly. The most recent image from January 21, 2022, shows that there have been no significant changes to the spoil piles or at the portal, and only minor changes such as the addition of a new footbridge have taken place elsewhere in the area.
This report, as are the others in this series, is based upon an ongoing study of the Korean People’s Army ballistic missile infrastructure begun by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. in 1985. This study is, in turn, based upon numerous interviews with North Korean defectors, declassified documents, open-source reporting, and interviews with -government, defense, and intelligence officials around the world. Accuracy in any discussion of North Korea’s nuclear, biological, chemical, or ballistic missile programs is always a challenge, and while some of the information used in the preparation of this study may eventually prove to be incomplete or incorrect, it is hoped that it provides a new and unique look into the subject. The information presented here supersedes or updates previous works by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. on these subjects.
Although 31 high- and medium-resolution satellite images were analyzed during the preparation of this report, the images ultimately presented in this report were purposely selected for their sensor resolutions, off-nadir angle, unique view, or absence of foliage. The latter allows for a more unobstructed and detailed view of the structures and activities within and around the Hoejung-ni missile operating base.
Gazetteer of Named Places
41.370556 126.875278 (West)
Hoejung-ni missile operating base
41.370556 126.944167 (East)
41.341944 126.928611 (South)
The authors wish to thank Seiyeon Ji, Andy Lim, Morgan Waterman, Seongjoon Hwang, Sang Jun Lee, and Dana Kim for their invaluable research in support of this project.
Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. is an internationally recognized analyst, award-winning author, and lecturer on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs and ballistic missile development in developing countries. He is concurrently senior fellow for Imagery Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS); senior adviser and imagery analyst for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK); author for IHS Markit (formerly the Jane’s Information Group); and publisher and editor of KPA Journal. Formerly, he has served as founder and CEO of KPA Associates, LLC, senior imagery analyst for 38 North at Johns Hopkins SAIS, chief analytics officer and co-founder of AllSource Analysis, Inc., and senior all-source analyst for DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center.
Victor Cha is senior vice president and the inaugural holder of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Jennifer Jun is a program coordinator and research assistant with the iDeas Lab and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States are not considering the deployment of an additional THAAD anti-missile system here, Seoul’s defense ministry said Monday amid a heated debate on the issue rekindled ahead of the March 9 presidential election.
Boo Seung-chan, the ministry spokesperson, made the remarks, following a media report that a government-commissioned research in 2015 noted the need for South Korea’s military to acquire its own THAAD battery separately from the one currently run by the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).
“Regarding the issue about the introduction of an additional THAAD unit, South Korea and the U.S. have not been planning any additional deployment nor have they been considering it,” Boo told a regular press briefing.
Boo pointed out that South Korea’s military has been developing its own interception system, called L-SAM (Long-range Surface-to-Air Missile), to establish a multilayered, low-tier missile defense system.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system has emerged as a hot-button issue in the election season as Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the conservative main opposition People Power Party, pledged last month to push for an “additional THAAD deployment” following a series of North Korean missile tests.
Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party, has cautioned against an additional THAAD deployment, warning it could trigger pushback from China, South Korea’s largest trading partner.
Power generators and other heavy equipment are transported to a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) base in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang Province, in this file photo taken April 28, 2021. (Yonhap)
SEOUL, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) — The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Friday its THAAD anti-missile system installed in South Korea is a “safe and reliable” asset, as a political debate has been rekindled here over the ideologically sensitive matter in the run-up to the March 9 presidential election.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system has emerged as a hot-button issue during the election season, as Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the conservative main opposition People Power Party, pledged to push for “additional THAAD deployment” in a Facebook post on Sunday in the wake of North Korea’s missile test binge.
A THAAD battery was first deployed to the southeastern county of Seongju in 2017. It has since been in the status of “temporary installation” pending South Korea’s environmental impact assessment.
“As agreed upon during the 53rd Security Consultative Meeting, both the ROK and U.S. committed to continuing close cooperation regarding THAAD — a safe and reliable defensive system that enables USFK to fulfill its obligation to protect and defend the ROK against any threat or adversary,” USFK spokesperson Col. Lee Peters told Yonhap News Agency. ROK stands for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.
Peters was referring to the defense ministerial talks between the South and the U.S. in Seoul in December, where the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to the stable stationing of the THAAD battery.
The spokesperson also pointed out that “any decision regarding the future employment of THAAD will be a bilaterally agreed upon decision,” apparently reaffirming Washington’s commitment to handling the alliance issue via close coordination with Seoul.
Since its installation in Seongju, Seoul has sought to support the stable stationing of the THAAD battery, but the efforts have been hampered by residents’ protests amid concerns about potential health risks associated with electromagnetic waves from its radar.
Power generators and other heavy equipment are transported to a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) base in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang Province, in this photo taken on April 28, 2021. (Yonhap)
John K. Singlaub, a two-star general with a record of wartime derring-do who resigned from the Army in 1978 after openly criticizing President Jimmy Carter’s defense policy, and who later battled communism as a private citizen by funneling weapons and money to rightist insurgents around the world, died Jan. 29 at his home in Franklin, Tenn. He was 100.
His daughter Mary Ann Singlaub confirmed the death but did not cite a cause.
To his admirers, Gen. Singlaub was the consummate warrior — a brawny, ramrod-straight man of action with the wounds and decorations to prove the truth of the lore that surrounded him. He rose to the rank of major general, and in the course of three wars, he became known as a stealthy commander with a knack for leading death-defying missions in mountains and jungles.
During World War II, he distinguished himself in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the CIA, parachuting into German-occupied France and later into China to support anti-Japanese guerrilla forces. He also was the mastermind of a bluff that helped liberate nearly 400 Allied prisoners from a Japanese prison camp.
For the nascent CIA, he headed agency operations in postwar Manchuria, served as a high-level agency official in Korea during the Korean War and organized covert combat operations along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam and in neighboring Laos during the Vietnam War.
Although revered by many military colleagues, he was largely unknown to the public until May 1977, when he was catapulted to the front page of The Washington Post. Serving at the time as chief of staff of U.S. forces in South Korea — the third-ranking Army official on the Korean Peninsula — he did something unusual, even shocking, for a military officer to do. He publicly disagreed with the president.
Carter made a campaign pledge the year before to bring home 32,000 U.S. ground troops stationed in the region over five years. Many officials in the diplomatic and defense establishment had called for more troops to reinforce South Korea’s border with North Korea. They said the border was a vital line of defense against aggressive communist regimes in North Korea and China.
Gen. Singlaub, however, aired his objections in a particularly visible fashion, alarming the White House. He told a Post reporter that Carter’s proposed retrenchment “will lead to war” as a previous drawdown of American forces had done in 1950.
Gen. Singlaub, who later said the interview had been off the record, was ordered to Washington for a meeting with Carter, after which the president said at a news conference that the general had committed “a very serious breach of the propriety that ought to exist among military officers after a policy has been made.”
Carter, Gen. Singlaub liked to note, eventually discarded his plans to remove the troops.
The incident was reminiscent of President Harry S. Truman’s showdown with Gen. Douglas MacArthur over the conduct of the Korean War. MacArthur was relieved of command, and he retired to New York.
He was lauded as a hero by conservative politicians such as Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and became a speaker on the far-right lecture circuit, lambasting Carter’s cancellation of the B-1A bomber program.
Gen. Singlaub started the U.S. Council for World Freedom, an affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League. Later, as president of the international organization, he made what the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith called “substantial progress” in purging the group of neo-Nazis, antisemites and Latin American death-squad leaders.
“We had a Mexican chapter that was really kooky,” he told The Post in 1986. “Blamed everything on the Jews. Even accused Pope John Paul of being a Jew. They were thrown out.”
In addition, Gen. Singlaub was involved with the Western Goals Foundation, a private domestic intelligence group bankrolled by the archconservative Texas oil tycoon Nelson Bunker Hunt to gather information on leftist groups and their leaders.
Gen. Singlaub’s chief function in what the Los Angeles Times called the business of “private-enterprise insurgency” was raising millions of dollars to supplyarms to anti-communist irregulars in places such as Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan and Laos.
In the early 1980s, as Congress began curtailing U.S. funding of efforts to overthrow leftist regimes in Nicaragua and elsewhere, Gen. Singlaub and his organizations remained an important conduit of materiel and financial assistance, reportedly with the help of deep-pocketed conservatives and foreign governments.
He was often compared to Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and other major figures in the Reagan administration’s Iran-contra affair. North was among the national security officials who had authorized illegal arms sales to Iran to win the release of U.S. hostages in the Middle East and used some of the profits to support right-wing Nicaraguan rebels known as the contras.
In his memoir, “Hazardous Duty” (1991), written with Malcolm McConnell, Gen. Singlaub reserved special contempt for North (a “gullible dupe”) and the shady arms dealers who he said had inflated prices of inferior weapons and pocketed the difference. Their motive, he wrote, “had been profit, not patriotism.”
Gen. Singlaub was never the subject of a criminal investigation. He spent six years and hundreds of thousands of dollars battling a lawsuit — filed by a leftist nonprofit group, the Christic Institute — that promoted conspiracy theories about him and dozens of others with ties to the contras. The lawsuit was resolved in his favor in 1992.
Meanwhile, he opened an office in the Philippines, intending to hunt, he said, for a treasure of gold bullion. He told the Los Angeles Times that his hope was to use the gold to finance anti-communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia. He abandoned the effort after local newspaper reports described the effort as a cover for mercenary training.
Born to march
John Kirk Singlaub was born on his grandfather’s homestead in what is now Independence, Calif., on July 10, 1921. During the summer, young Jack hiked with friends in the eastern Sierra Nevadas, and they tested their fortitude by finding out how many days they could march on what they carried in their rucksacks.
His father worked for the city of Los Angeles, and the Singlaubs eventually settled in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood.
Jack Singlaub, who said his ambition had always been to join the military, enrolled in an ROTC program at the University of California at Los Angeles. With the United States at war, he set aside his studies in 1943, just shy of graduation, to receive an Army commission as a second lieutenant.
Their mission was to help French Resistance fighters prepare for the Allied invasion of the occupied country’s Mediterranean coast, launched about two months after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. (William Casey, the future CIA director, was his case officer. When Casey offered him cyanide pills for use in the event of capture, Gen. Singlaub recalled replying, “No, sir, I don’t intend to get captured.”)
At one point, in a fight against a German garrison, he was wounded in the face by sniper fire. He grabbed a Bren light machine gun and emptied two full magazines on the enemy nest, silencing it. “We didn’t hear from that gun again,” he said.
“It was not all bad,” he later told the Warfare History Network, describing the action he saw in France. He said there were families, still living in castles, who would celebrate with the advancing Americans by uncorking fine wine or 50-year-old cognac that they had managed to hide from the Germans. “There was stress, strain, and pain, but you could survive.”
With the Allied march to Berlin underway, Gen. Singlaub volunteered for service in the Pacific to help end the war there. His most intrepid undertaking of the war came on Aug. 27, 1945, after the Americans leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs but before the official Japanese surrender on Sept. 2.
It was feared that Allied prisoners of war would be executed en masse in retribution for the bombings, and Gen. Singlaub headed an eight-man rescue team sent to free American, Australian and Dutch POWs on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. After parachuting in, they were met at the guardhouse by bayonet-wielding Japanese soldiers who attempted to take them prisoner.
Gen. Singlaub was a captain at the time, but he had been advised by an OSS specialist on the Japanese military to pose as a major, the rank above his. With swagger that astonished the Japanese guards, he recalled, he ordered them to watch over the medical and food supplies his team had brought with it.
“There was a Japanese captain there, and I told him he didn’t have enough rank to talk with me,” Gen. Singlaub told the Warfare History Network. “He got on the telephone line and screamed to get connected to his colonel. We listened outside his door, and . . . could hear the captain saying, ‘But, sir, they jumped in broad daylight, the major insists that Japan is surrendering — and he will talk only with you!’ ”
The next day, after the OSS crew spent an unnerving night in a hospital building, the colonel arrived, and Gen. Singlaub negotiated an agreement to provide food and medical attention to the emaciated POWs and arranged for their eventual evacuation.
On brief home leave earlier that year, he married Mary Osborne, with whom he had three children before divorcing. In 1992, he married Joan Lafferty.
In addition to his daughter Mary Ann, of Vienna, Va., and his wife, of Franklin, survivors include his other children, Lis D’Antoni of Davie, Fla., and John O. Singlaub of Zephyr Cove, Nev.; three stepdaughters, Jody Ball of Columbia, Tenn., Sara Guest of Arlington, Tenn., and Debra Satterfield of Franklin; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
After the war, Gen. Singlaub was based at Mukden before the Manchurian city fell to Chinese Communists forces in 1948 and Americans were expelled. He escaped with his cocker spaniel on the last possible flight — “under artillery attack, passing a reconnaissance plane with a red star insignia, knowing this battle of the cold war was lost,” author Tim Weiner wrote in his CIA history “Legacy of Ashes.”
During the Korean War, Gen. Singlaub served as deputy chief of the CIA mission on the peninsula and later as an Army battalion commander, for which he received the Silver Star for valor in combat. He then joined the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He completed his UCLA degree in 1958, majoring in political science.
His other military decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Soldier’s Medal, the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.
Nicknamed “Jumping Jack” Singlaub, he chaired the board of a forerunner to the U.S. Parachute Association and led the Army parachute team in international competitions. He was chairman of the OSS Society, a group that seeks to preserve the spy agency’s legacy.
Years after leaving the Army, he started wearing his dog tags again — a decision he made when he “returned to war,” this time allied with the contras, and faced possible ambush, he wrote in his memoir.
“That would be one way to at least identify my body,” he added. “Then I understood that the gesture was also symbolic of my commitment. Once I put those worn old steel tags back around my neck, I decided to keep them on until the war was over. I am still wearing them today.”
SEOUL, Jan. 31 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s weekend launch of an “intermediate-and long-range” ballistic missile underscores the intransigent regime’s stated arms buildup in progress under a go-it-alone approach and its eagerness to tighten internal solidarity ahead of key political events, analysts here said Monday.
In its seventh show of force this year, Pyongyang launched the Hwasong 12-type missile Sunday, just days ahead of the Beijing Olympics and despite dialogue overtures by Seoul and Washington.
The latest launch came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is apparently intent on whipping up national pride ahead of major holidays — the 80th birthday of his late father, Kim Jong-il, on Feb. 16 and the 110th birthday of his late grandfather Kim Il-sung on April 15, the analysts said.
The North’s saber-rattling has posed an unsettling setback for Seoul striving to salvage its fragile peace drive, Washington preoccupied with tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and Beijing setting the mood for its successful hosting of the Winter Olympics set to begin Friday.
This composite photo, released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, shows its intermediate-range ballistic missile, Hwasong-12, being launched on Jan. 30, 2022. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)
“The North appears to be moving under its own timelines for its weapons development projects unveiled at the eighth ruling party congress last year and for its major political events,” a security expert said on condition of anonymity. “Internal factors appear to have much influence on its course of action.”
Amid a protracted deadlock in nuclear talks with the United States, the North has been doubling down on the five high-stakes defense projects it put forward at the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in January last year.
The projects include developing a hypersonic warhead, raising the “hit rates” of missiles with the range of 15,000 kilometers, producing a “super-large” nuclear warhead and developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) using an “underground or ground solid-fuel engine.”
At the congress, the North also stressed the need to develop tactical nuclear weapons, and secure a nuclear-powered submarine and a nuclear strategic weapon capable of being launched underwater as it castigated the “military threat from the U.S.”
Evidence has been mounting that the North has been trying to accomplish those projects.
Sunday’s launch of what South Korea’s military categorizes as an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) might be part of efforts to enhance the accuracy of a longer-range missile and its atmospheric reentry technology, and develop a vehicle capable of delivering a tactical nuclear weapon, experts said.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) stressed Monday that the Hwasong-12 missile is “being produced and deployed” — an indication that it has completed its operational deployment following its 2017 claim to have completed its development.
The KCNA also released images of its liftoff from a mobile launcher and flight during the boost phase, as well as those of the Earth taken in space. The images appear to have been taken by drones and a camera installed in the payload.
Pyongyang also conducted self-proclaimed hypersonic missile tests on Jan. 5 and 11 following the first such test last September.
“Through the development of weapons, the North appears to have boosted the morale of its people when the country as a whole is grappling with worsening economic hardships in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the security expert said.
“It’s a typical pattern in which the North highlights external threats to reinforce internal cohesion, engages in provocations and then utilizes subsequent international sanctions to underscore the threats from without,” he added.
The North’s apparent move to brinkmanship comes in the lead-up to the country’s major holidays when there is an apparent political imperative for the regime to instill a sense of pride into its citizens struggling with ever-worsening economic travails.
“Pyongyang also wants to boost national pride as it gears up to celebrate political anniversaries in the context of economic struggles,” Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University, said.
Domestic factors have emerged as a crucial variable in the analysis of motives behind the North’s weapons tests as a set of external elements, including the Beijing Games, had been expected to deter Pyongyang’s military moves.
This month, the North conducted four known rounds of missile tests in sites close to the border with China, although it might be aware Beijing does not want the launches to overshadow the Olympics, especially following the U.S.’ diplomatic boycott of the event.
In particular, the move is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology, which would force China into joining the global move to consider or roll out new punitive measures against its neighbor.
Observers said the launches close to the border could signal either the North’s possible friction with its patron, China, or Beijing’s acquiescence to the weapons tests.
The North’s missile testing frenzy has also stumped some analysts that had thought Pyongyang could take a wait-and-see stance for the time being as its year-end ruling party plenary did not send any particular message to Seoul and Washington while focusing on chronic food shortages and other domestic issues.
The provocative mode is seen as an ominous sign that the North could further ratchet up tensions with more powerful weapons tests as it issued a thinly veiled threat on Jan. 20 to lift a voluntary moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests declared in April 2018.
Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University, said that the test of the latest IRBM potentially capable of delivering a tactical nuclear warhead could mark a culmination of the North’s decadeslong drive for nuclear armament.
“The nuclear-tipped IRBM and other missiles could keep South Korea, Japan and even Guam hostage, and lead to a situation in which the removal of such tactical arms becomes impossible, meaning the North cannot help but be viewed as a de facto nuclear power,” Park said.
“Then would come the next stage of nuclear arms restrictions (between the U.S. and the North) rather than the North’s denuclearization,” he added.
For South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the North’s escalatory military actions mean a major blow to his peace initiative where he has put much political capital.
But those actions might have served as a sobering reminder for the Joe Biden administration whose repeated dialogue offers to the North have started to be taken with a grain of salt or written off as perfunctory, observers noted.
SEOUL, Jan. 25 (Yonhap) — North Korea seems to have test-fired at least two cruise missiles from an inland area, a South Korean official said, in what would be Pyongyang’s fifth known round of missile launches this year.
“We still need to conduct a detailed analysis (on the launches),” the military official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “But I want to say that should such a missile be launched southward, our detection and interception systems have no problem countering it.”
The official did not offer details, including origins and targets.
The North conducted the last known test of a cruise missile in September last year. At the time, it claimed to have fired a “new-type long-range cruise missile,” calling it a “strategic weapon of great significance.”
A cruise missile test does not run afoul of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology.
Usually, the South’s military does not make any formal announcement or statement in response to the North’s cruise missile tests, versus swift public reaction against its ballistic missile activities.
The North fired what it called two tactical guided missiles on Jan. 17, just three days after its purported test-firing of two other missiles by its railway-borne unit.
It also shot what it claims to be hypersonic missiles on Jan. 5 and 11, raising concerns they could dodge South Korea’s missile defense, though the authenticity of the assertions has yet to be vouched for.
In a sign the recalcitrant regime could engage in more provocative acts, Pyongyang made a thinly-veiled threat last Thursday to lift its yearslong self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests.
This photo, released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on Jan. 18, 2022, shows a tactical guided missile being launched the previous day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)
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