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N.K. seen upgrading missile launch facility

North Korea appears to be nearing completion of a project to extend a launch pad at the missile site on its west coast, a military source said Wednesday, boosting the possibility for another rocket liftoff later this year. 
In this Dec. 12, 2012 file photo released by the North’s Korean Central News Agency, the Unha-3 rocket lifts off from the launch pad in North Korea. (AP-Yonhap News)
In this Dec. 12, 2012 file photo released by the North’s Korean Central News Agency, the Unha-3 rocket lifts off from the launch pad in North Korea. (AP-Yonhap News)

A new gantry topping 60 meters was spotted at the Dongchang-ri station, where the communist state successfully fired a long-range rocket in December 2012, the source said. It marks an upgrade from the previous 50-meter-tall pad.

Citing satellite imagery, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said in late May that the construction work “essentially” ended, improving the gantry to support a space launch vehicle larger than the already tested 30-meter-long Unha-3.

“The work has apparently almost finished, though the exact size of the pad is to be further confirmed,” a Seoul official said, pointing to SAIS’ analysis.

The advancement shores up speculation that the Kim Jong-un regime may stage a provocation as it celebrates the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo also recently raised the possibility for a “strategic provocation” to coincide with the occasion.

Pyongyang is reportedly gearing up for a large-scale military parade at Mirim Airport, rallying Scud, Rodong and other missiles with various ranges, 240-milimeter multiple rocket launchers, armored vehicles and other equipment.

“Our military is closely tracking and monitoring any missile-related movement by North Korea including the construction activities to extend the launch pad at Dongchang-ri,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok said.

Meanwhile, the regime has deployed four units of 122 mm howitzers on Galdo Island, some 2.5 kilometers north of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto naval frontier in the West Sea, military officials said.

The ministry said in late May that the North has been setting up military bunkers on the island, calling it a “grave threat” given its geographic location and the proximity to the NLL and Yeonpyeongdo Island. It attacked the island in November 2010, killing four South Koreans.

Nine bunkers have since been built, six of which are designed to house firearms, and about 100 personnel appear to be stationed there, they added.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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