Did North Korea stop work on launch site?
Satellite imagery of the Tonghae launch site shows construction halt continues through May with grass growing in the foundation of the new assembly building.
July 23rd, 2013
03:09 PM ET

Did North Korea stop work on launch site?

By Jamie Crawford

North Korea appears to have stopped work on a long-range missile launch site, according to newly released satellite imagery.

The analysis by 38 North, a blog run by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, shows construction at the Tonghae launch site appears to have stopped eight months ago.

But as with everything when it comes to the opaque workings of North Korea, the search for a definitive reason behind the stoppage remain elusive.

"It's almost certain they are not going to stop developing long-range missiles. I don't think that's what is going on here," says Joel Wit, a former State Department official who manages the blog and studied the images. "We have to be very careful about trying to say what is going on, because the fact is we really don't know."

In addition to still incomplete roads around the site that would carry materials to the launch pad, the images also show grass and other vegetation growing over the foundation of the new assembly building at the Tonghae site. The images were taken on May 26.

Construction began on Tonghae in 2011 and the site is separate from the Sohae facility from where a long-range rocket successfully launched a satellite into orbit last December.

Explanations for the stoppage range from the diversion of workers to other parts of the country to help with reconstruction following the heavy rains and typhoons in 2012, to a decision by the government of Kim Jong-un that it does not need a second facility to test long-range rockets.

"We're sort of at the thin edge here where we see something's happening, but we need more time to figure it out," Wit said.

Satellite imagery released earlier this month showed North Korea moving ahead with efforts to improve and possibly modernize its missile program through a series of engine tests. Those tests appeared to have been done at the Sohae launch facility.

Analysts who follow North Korea say the Tonghae site always appeared to be designed to handle larger rockets, perhaps even larger than the Unha rockets the North launched in their two previous tests last December and April.

Earlier imagery of the site based on the launch pad, fuel tanks, and size of the missile assembly facility suggested a support site for rockets perhaps two to three times as large as those already tested. The Sohae site is also capable of launching rockets larger than the Unha.

But the question of whether work will ever continue at the newer site will likely have to wait for another day.

"If we go through the summer and nothing is happening, you probably could conclude that it does not look like they are going to restart, but it's a little premature for that," Wit said.

Filed under: North Korea
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. NYC Fitness Event

    I agree less aggressive no way. It's simple they have a shortage of trusted workers and money. Sites like this need to have secrets.
    Maybe he killed everyone o

    January 31, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Reply
  2. David

    Maybe North Korea realizes they don't need to make a show of bigger rockets when they already have the capacity to put a satellite into orbit and destroy the United States with one small nuclear device that produces EMP. I doubt their lack of activity on this site is a demonstration they are becoming less aggressive, less militaristic, or less of a threat to the United States. It could be the exact opposite.

    July 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  3. Navyvet8192

    When is the end of the fiscal year in N.K.? It could be as simple as budgeted funds just aren't available yet.

    July 24, 2013 at 11:47 am | Reply
  4. Phelix Unger

    It may be that in order to do his sabre rattling the young fella had to pull the people working on this project to parade in the capital for the cameras. There is also the fact that the general who is the mind behind the throne maybe playing a little cat and mouse. Either way with images like this it doesn't seem like the next launch will be as big a surprise as the last one. Then there is this relationship with South Korea and getting their people back to work. I think North Korea will have its hands full for the next year or so. Iran on the other hand presents a more dangerous situation and one that will have to be dealt with in the very near future.

    July 24, 2013 at 12:25 am | Reply
  5. StanCaif

    The best policy for the US is to totally ignore North Korea! NK is China's problem child, not ours! If China cannot, and will not, control their errant child, all we have to do is ban all Chinese cargo ships from docking in the USA! The Chinese economy would totally collapse very quickly! So what if China owns much our our debt, just tell China "Sorry Charlie", get your ignorant step child straightened out or send your cargo ships elsewhere. Pay our debts? Forget it! Any broker will tell you that investment bears risk, including the loss of capital! This is how the system works. If China was stupid enough to buy our debt, they are subject to loss of capital. Go f++k your communist leaders until you get your beloved NK under control!

    July 23, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Reply
    • brown

      Yea it would be nice if the world worked that way.

      July 24, 2013 at 12:17 am | Reply
    • Wooly

      US economy is tied with china. US can't just stop imports wih china and US can't just impose tarrifs. ...we learned from the he smoot-Hawley Tariff act of 1930.

      July 24, 2013 at 4:33 am | Reply
  6. alan

    they are on the pay as you go plan

    July 23, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Reply
  7. goat

    Something tells me they're desperately running out of funds to try to start WWIII

    July 23, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  8. anon_engineer

    All the soldier workers are busy building a ski resort as of 6 months ago. I read it on Korean news. Don't expect progress on this site until March/April of 2014 when we US and SK perform their next scheduled drill.

    July 23, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Reply
    • MIB

      Your post I thought was strange and I looked into it and considering the leader of that country , It could be.

      July 24, 2013 at 6:37 am | Reply
  9. Pete

    Maybe N Korea lost their lease and are looking for a new site.Even the Boy Scouts know where these missile sites are,nothing new just the address has been changed!!

    July 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  10. Random

    If you take NK seriously about its desire to seriously attack us, then this should be a bit worrisome. It seems reasonable to conclude scaling up what they have done is relatively simple. It might be the final assembly to achieve their stated goal.

    Reasons why it was stalled , could vary significantly. Hiccups in scaling up the devices, Pressure from China, It also might have been a bluff. If it was me in his spot I would have canceled it due to its obvious nature after pressure from Iran. Diverted the workers elsewhere where the EITS can't see it. They are working with Iran and what ever this is will touch on Iran.

    July 23, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Reply

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