North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Gas Up the KMS-3

Commemorative postage stamp of the Kwangmyo'ngso'ng-2/U'nha-2 launch in April 2009 (Photo: KCNA)

Technicians from the Korea Committee for Space Technology [KCST] continue preparations for the launch of the U’nha-3 carrier rocket which will reportedly carry payload, Kwangmyo’ngso’ng-3 [KMS-3] satellite.  38 North provides a detailed image analysis of the ongoing activities at Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongch’ang-ri, North P’yo’ngan Province:

Launch pad preparation seems to be progressing on schedule with fuel and oxidizer being delivered to the storage buildings for the Unha-3’s first stage. The next step will be the movement of the first stage to the pad—probably on March 30 or 31—followed by the second stage a day or two later. The third stage and payload will follow probably by April 2 or 3. Several other major events will take place after the Unha-3 is completely assembled. Unless some major setback occurs, the North Koreans will be able to launch during the declared launch window starting April 12, 2012.

Complementing the piece, image analysis expert Nick Hansen produced a timeline on U’nha-3’s launch preparations and the DPRK’s previous rocket (ICBM) launches:

It is no secret that North Korea plans to launch a satellite in a window between April 12-16, 2012 to coincide with the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung, the founder of the country. It also plans to use an Unha-3 booster rocket launched from a new space port (Sohae Satellite Launching Station, a.k.a. Tongchang-dong Space Launch Center). The real secret is how North Korea plans to accomplish this task in the nearly three weeks left before the announced launch window. To provide some context on a probable timeline, this article briefly discusses the observed activities leading up to the Unha launch on July 4, 2006 and the Unha-2 launch on April 5, 2009, both from its old Tonghae Test Center.

Commercial imagery and open source reporting has shown that the launch campaigns of both 2006 and 2009 from Tonghae took about 2.25 months. Therefore, if the North Koreans are following anything like their previous schedule, the new campaign should be well underway. Imagery as of March 29, 2012, indicates that preparations have indeed begun. If a launch is really planned, it can be assumed that the Unha-3 and the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, identified as an earth resources mission, will soon be inside the assembly building.

AFP reports:

North Korea has begun fuelling a rocket for a launch that the West considers a missile test, a Japanese newspaper reported on Thursday, citing a source “close to the government” in Pyongyang.

“The launch is coming closer. The possibility is high that the launch date will be set for April 12 or 13,” the source said according to the Tokyo Shimbun in a report from Seoul.

It cited the source as saying that North Korea had begun injecting liquid fuel into the rocket.

The paper also said a diplomatic source had confirmed that North Korea has moved the rocket to a launch pad in Tongchang-ri in the country’s far northwest.

The report came after North Korea insisted Tuesday it would go ahead with what it says is a satellite launch, snubbing a call from US President Barack Obama to drop the plan and accusing him of a “confrontational mindset”.

DPRK media interviewed a deputy (vice) director of the KCST’s Space Development Department who provided a general explanation about the satellite, its equipment and the official motivation for the launch.  KCNA reports:

There were questions about the data of the working satellite to be launched on the occasion of the significant Day of the Sun and the visits by foreign experts and reporters.

Question: What is the mission of Kwangmyongsong-3, first working satellite in the DPRK?

Answer: Kwangmyongsong-3 as an earth observation satellite will assess the distribution of forests and natural resources of the DPRK, the level of natural disaster, the crop estimate, etc. and collect data necessary for weather forecast, natural resources prospecting and others.

Q: What is its capacity?

A: Kwangmyongsong-3 has video camera mounted on it and will send observation data including pictures to the General Satellite Control and Command Centre.

It weighs 100kg and will circle along the solar synchronous orbit at 500km high altitude. Its life is two years.

Q: The DPRK invited foreign experts and reporters to the satellite launch. What can they observe?

A: They will go to the Sohae Satellite Launching Station to witness carrier rocket Unha-3 on the launching pad and Kwangmyongsong-3. They will watch the preparation for the launch of the carrier rocket with satellite on it in the General Launch Command Centre. They will also visit the General Satellite Control and Command Centre in Pyongyang and see the satellite being launched in a relevant place.

We will organize special visits going beyond the international usage to show with transparency the peaceful, scientific and technological nature of the satellite.

The U’nha-3 is not the only missile being tested on the DPRK’s west coast this spring.  South Korean media reported that on Thursday (29 March) that two KN-01 anti-ship missiles were tested.  KBS World reports:

The official said Friday that the North launched two KN-01 surface-to-ship missiles with a range of 120 kilometers from North Pyongan Province.

The official said the missile tests are not considered to be related to the North’s plan to launch a long-range rocket next month and were apparently carried out to test the missiles’ capacities. However, the official added the tests could be interpreted as the North’s protest over the recent expansion of South Korean and U.S. war vessels deployed in the Yellow Sea.

North Korea test-fired three KN-02 surface-to-surface missiles in the East Sea earlier in January and test-fired two short-range missiles off its eastern coast on December 19th last year, the day Kim Jong-il’s death was announced.

Japan’s Self Defense Forces [SDF] have been ordered to shoot down any parts of the U’nha-3 which might impact Japanese territory.  Japan will also deploy surface-to-air missiles [SAM] as the launch approaches.  Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was the only  international leader to explicitly remark on the U’nha/KMS-3 launch during the proceedings of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul earlier this week.

Asahi Japan Watch reports:

Pyongyang says it is planning to launch an Earth observation satellite between April 12 and 16, prompting Japan to mobilize its forces ahead of the launch. It is strongly suspected that the launch is nothing but a ruse to test a long-range ballistic missile.

On March 28, an RC-135U reconnaissance plane, designed to collect electronic intelligence, arrived at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture.

Surface-to-air Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles have already been deployed at Kadena on a permanent basis, and the Air SDF is continuing with preparations for the deployment of PAC-3 missiles in other locations around Japan. Actual deployment was to get under way from March 30.

The Maritime SDF will also deploy three Aegis-class destroyers to waters off Okinawa and in the Sea of Japan to track the rocket/missile.

The PAC-3 missiles will be deployed in three locations in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area as well as four locations in Okinawa, including the Miyakojima and Ishigakijima islands. The missiles are expected to be transported by sea from SDF bases in Tsu and Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, via Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture.

Because the North Korean missile is only expected to traverse the islands of Okinawa, there is thought to be a very low chance of any parts of it falling on Japanese territory.

Aegis-class destroyers successfully shot down ballistic missiles in three out of four tests by the MSDF. Two tests of PAC-3 missiles have also been successful.

Hideaki Kaneda, a former senior MSDF officer who is a director at the Okazaki Institute, said: “Japan has the ability to make an appropiate response against missiles similar in type to the Rodong (of North Korea).”

However, the PAC-3 missile only has a range of several dozens of kilometers for intercepting ballistic missiles. If the North Korean ballistic missile approaches Japanese airspace, it would likely herald some sort of malfunction.

Military analyst Kazuhisa Ogawa said: “If the missile starts to drop out of the sky due to a malfunction, its flight route would become unstable because of air resistance. That would make it much harder to shoot it down (with an interceptor missile).”

Another military commentator, Isaku Okabe, admitted the difficulty of shooting down a missile that had gone off course, but he said: “The route is over a large area of water, so there is a small chance that the missile will fall on land.”

Yanggang (Ryanggang) Provincial Party Secretary Kim Hui Taek (L)

Meanwhile, Daily NK citing sources in Yanggang Province, reports that Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] deputies have been ordered to arrive in Pyongyang on or around 5 April, eight (8) days prior to the convocation of the 5th session (plenum; plenary meeting) of the 12th SPA on 13 April.  It is speculated in the article that the 4th Party Conference (Meeting of Party Representatives) might occur prior to the SPA, due to overlapping (dual) membership.  Given the scheduling of the SPA session and the projected dates of the U’nha-3 launch, the DPRK central leadership may be looking for a propulsive pretext to convene the party conference.

The unusually long eight day lead-in time appears to suggest that the 4th Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference is going to occur sometime between the 5th and 12th, to be followed by the SPA on the 13th in order to allow all political formalities to be completed before the regime turns its attention to celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on the 15th.

The exact schedule is a guessing game because although the Politburo revealed official plans to hold the 4th Delegates’ Conference “in mid-April” on February 20th, a precise date has still not been officially released.

A source from Hyesan in Yangkang Province revealed news of the order to assemble in conversation with Daily NK today, adding that “Nine people will depart from Hyesan by train on April 1st as SPA delegates, including Provincial Party Chief Secretary Kim Hi Taek, the principal of Kim Jong Suk College of Education and the low-level Party secretary from Hyesan Textile Factory.”

According to the source, “There has been no order handed down about the Delegates’ Conference, but since they have told delegates to assemble early for the SPA, the word on the street is that the Delegates’ Conference will come first.”

Many of the ‘lawmakers’ in the rubberstamp SPA are also likely to be Party delegates as well, meaning that holding the two events in very quick succession is logistically beneficial.

Delegates will travel on special trains laid on to transport people and freight on the behalf of the state. In the case of delegates from Hyesan, the train will depart from the border city before stopping at Kilju in North Hamkyung Province and passing through Kim Chaek, Simpo and Hamheung before stopping at Suncheon and Pyongsung in South Pyongan Province en route to the capital. If all goes according to plan, the journey should take 22 hours, though the April 1st departure date is a clear reflection of how power limitations can affect travel in rural North Korea.

In the meantime, Chosun Central News Agency and Rodong Shinmun have both been reporting on local conferences held to ‘elect’ delegates to the 4th Delegates’ Conference, though these are not competitive elections. So far, Kim Jong Eun has been officially adopted as a delegate by the Chosun People’s Army and the Party in South Pyongan Province and the capital, Pyongyang.

If the Supreme People’s Assembly does occur after the 4th Delegates’ Conference, Kim Jong Eun will first formally take power in the Party and then in the administrative sector, presumably becoming Chosun Workers’ Party chief secretary and chairman of the Central Military Committee before then becoming head of state.

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