By Choe Sang-Hun
New York Times News Service
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea is expanding an important missile base that would be one of the most likely sites for deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, two experts on the North’s missile programs said Thursday, citing new research based on satellite imagery.
The activities at the Yeongjeo-dong missile base near North Korea’s border with China and the expansion of a new suspected missile facility 7 miles away are the latest indications that North Korea is continuing to improve its missile capabilities, said Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California. And they come despite President Donald Trump’s repeated claims of progress in efforts to denuclearize the North.
Lewis and Schmerler said they were still not sure whether Yeongjeo-dong and the new facility under construction in nearby Hoejung-ni, both in the mountainous area near North Korea’s central border with China, were separate bases or parts of a larger single operation.
But their geographic locations make them ideal to “house long-range missiles,” they said in a report they were preparing.
“The base is located in the interior of North Korea, backed up against the Chinese border,” they said. “It is this location that leads us to believe that the general area is a strong candidate for the deployment of future missiles that can strike the United States.”
Military planners in Seoul and Washington have long suspected that North Korea would deploy its ICBMs as close to China as possible to reduce the likelihood of pre-emptive strikes from the United States.
“This is one of the important locations in North Korea our military is monitoring in cooperation with the United States,” Roh Jae-cheon, a South Korean military spokesman, said Thursday about the North Korean base. He declined to share further details.
In a report published last month, a Washington-based research institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it had located more than a dozen North Korean missile bases still in operation.
Using satellite imagery, Lewis and Schmerler located tunnels in Yeongjeo-dong that might be used for storing missiles and the construction of a new headquarters, as well as a pair of drive-thru shelters in Hoejung-ni suitable for large ballistic missiles and “an extremely large underground facility” under construction farther up a narrow valley.