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ConflictsNorth Korea

North Korea seeks to expand ICBM launch pad

March 11, 2022

North Korea's Kim Jong Un has ordered the expansion of the country's space rocket launch site, as the US and South Korea conclude Pyongyang tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile system.

 People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul
North Korea's missile launches have been strongly condemned by the US and its allies in the Asia-Pacific regionImage: Ahn Young-joon/AP/picture alliance

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has told his officials to expand the country's satellite launch facility to fire a variety of rockets, state media reported on Friday, as South Korea and the United States accused Pyongyang of testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system.

What do we know so far?

Kim gave the order while on a visit to the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The site has been used in the past to put a satellite in orbit and to test several missile technologies.

Static rocket engines and space launch vehicles, which South Korean and US officials have said require similar technology used in ICBMs, have been previously tested in the facility.

According to KCNA, Kim told his officials to "modernize" the facility "on an expansion basis so that various rockets could be launched to carry multi-purpose satellites.''

"He stressed that it is the noble duty of our party and space scientists and technicians in our era to turn the launching ground, associated with our state's great dream and ambition for a space power, into an ultramodern advanced base," KCNA added.

How have US and South Korea responded? 

On Thursday, the Pentagon said two missile tests conducted by Pyongyang last week were of a new ICBM system.

North Korea's neighbors had detected two ballistic launches on February 27 and March 5 in the country's first weapons firings in a month.

"The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch,'' Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Thursday.

North Korea said it was testing cameras and other systems to be installed on a spy satellite but did not reveal what missiles or rockets it used.

Kirby said in his statement that the US military has ordered "enhanced readiness'' among its ballistic missile defense forces in the region and has also stepped up surveillance activities off the Korean Peninsula's west coast.

"The United States strongly condemns these launches, which are a brazen violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, needlessly raise tensions and risk destabilizing the security situation in the region,'' Kirby said.

South Korea's Defense Ministry also arrived at a similar conclusion on Friday and said North Korea must immediately stop any act that increases tensions and leads to security concerns in the region.

Both Seoul and Washington have said that the missile system — called Hwasong-17 — was first revealed in a military parade in Pyongyang in October 2020 and was seen again at a defense exhibition in October 2021.

North Korea has threatened to call off a self-imposed moratorium on tests of ICBMs and nuclear weapons as denuclearization talks have stalled.

Japan mulls more sanctions against North Korea, says report

Japan is considering putting additional sanctions on North Korea for its continued ICBM test fires, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Friday.

The sanctions could include an expansion of asset freezes, the report said without citing sources.

dvv/wd (AFP, AP, Reuters)