North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Unha-3 Rocket in Place?

Technicians and other personnel of the Korea Committee for Space Technology and the Korean People’s Army [KPA] continue to finalize preparations for the launch of the U’nha-3 carrier rocket and Kwangmyo’ngso’ng-3 [KMS-3] satellite.  38 North reports:

Commercial satellite photographs taken on April 4 reveal the gantry’s work platform is now covered and closed around the mobile launch stand, indicating work is being conducted inside, but also making it impossible to determine whether the Unha-3 or any part of it is erected on the pad. Moreover, the platform is enclosed by canvas to protect it from weather but also to further ensure that activity inside is not visible. (Previous satellite imagery dating back to March 28 showed the platform open and no stages present.)

There are some indicators to suggest, however, that at least the first stage may be stacked in the gantry and the launch date is growing closer. First, the fueling activity observed for the past week seems to have been completed. Most of the empty fuel and oxidizer tanks appear to have been removed from the buildings that supply the first stage, indicating an end to the delivery of propellants.

Second, the North Koreans appear to have erected a barricade or security checkpoint for vehicles entering from the west, the only road to the pad from other main facilities at the range. This barrier or checkpoint, not present in March 28 satellite photos, indicates heightened security at the pad—something present.

Third, the launch pad itself has been cleaned up and objects seen near the gantry previously have been removed. The scraping of the area adjacent to the south side of the pad down to dirt has also been completed and the brush cut up to the fuel buildings to reduce the chance of a fire reaching them. It also appears that a layer of dirt has been spread into the concrete flame trench probably to reduce erosion by the rockets exhaust gases.

KBS World in Seoul reports that the launch is expected to occur on or around 14 April (Saturday):

A source related to North Korean affairs has said Pyongyang is likely to launch its long-range missile on April 14th and not April 12th, as was expected earlier.

The source said North Korea has invited reporters from foreign media to the launch event, telling them to enter Pyongyang on April 12th.

The source said considering the state of North Korean roadways, it will take at least a day to move from Pyongyang to the launch pad in Dongchang-ri in Northern Pyongan Province, and the invited reporters will likely observe the launch on the morning of the 14th.

Other North Korean experts also said it was highly likely the North would fire its rocket that day to commemorate the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il-Sung.

Japan’s Nippon Television Network said on Friday that North Korea has attached the first part of the Gwangmyongsong-3 rocket onto the launch pad.

South Korean military sources have said North Korea will probably start fueling its rocket on Sunday.

Foster Klug writes for the Associated Press:

The North Korean launch is meant as a showcase of national power and technology during celebrations of one of the country’s most important days — the centennial of the April 15 birth of national founder Kim Il Sung. North Korea says the rocket will carry a satellite into orbit to study crops and natural resources.

Washington and others call the launch a cover to test missile systems that could target parts of the United States. While North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests, analysts don’t believe it has yet mastered the technology needed to shrink a nuclear weapon and mount it onto a missile.

Launch preparation can also be seen in separate GeoEye satellite images from Saturday reviewed by Allison Puccioni, image analyst at IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. The images show vehicles on the launch pad, nearby fuel and oxidizer containers and a crane above the launch tower that’s been placed “directly over the mobile launch platform, the position necessary to erect the rocket.”

Cloudy skies from Sunday through Tuesday obscured the launch site, but the U.S.-Korea Institute’s analysis says that if Pyongyang is following a timeline similar to 2006 and 2009 launches, workers should have put the rocket’s first stage on the launch stand Sunday or Monday, with the second and third stages coming during the next two days.

Image: Asahi Shimbun

Nanae Kurashige, Takashi Oshima and Akihiko Kaise reported for Asahi Japan Watch :

South Korea says Japan has overreacted, and the United States seems to be more concerned with what the missile can do, rather than what might happen if it malfunctions.

On April 6, Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka visited the Air Defense Command headquarters, located in the compound of U.S. Yokota Air Base in Fussa, western Tokyo. The ADC is under the jurisdiction of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

There, he met with ADC Commander Harukazu Saito and U.S. Forces Japan Commander Burton Field, and expressed his hope that Japan and the United States would work closely to deal with the problem.

The ADC headquarters was transferred to the Yokota base in late March to facilitate coordination with the United States.

The office will analyze intelligence gathered by U.S. forces and Japan’s SDF, and command operations to intercept the North Korean missile if there is any chance of it landing on Japanese territory or its waters.

“I was reassured by Commander Field that U.S. forces will share information with Japan,” Tanaka told reporters after his visit.

On April 3, Tanaka spoke by telephone with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, during which they both agreed that Japan and the United States would work together to deal with the threat.

However, a Japanese Defense Ministry official said Washington’s sense of crisis is more subdued than in 2009 when Pyongyang launched a long-range ballistic missile in the direction of the U.S. mainland.

This time, however, the missile will take a southern trajectory.

In both cases, North Korea asserted it was launching a satellite.

“The country that is feeling the biggest threat is Japan,” said an executive of the Japanese Defense Ministry.

Japan is deploying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles in three locations in the Tokyo metropolitan area and four locations in Okinawa Prefecture.

But there appears to be little chance of missile debris, or the missile itself, falling on the Tokyo metropolitan area, a Defense Ministry official said.

The United States has yet to disclose full details of its own measures to deal with the missile launch.

On April 5, U.S. Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters that the United States is monitoring North Korean moves and is ready to track the missile if it is launched.

The United States is deploying Aegis destroyers equipped with missile defense capabilities. Reconnaissance aircraft will also take to the air.

CNN reported that sea-based X-band radar equipment, which is used to detect incoming missiles, left a U.S. Navy base in Hawaii in late March bound for the Japan-Korea region.

Washington is particularly interested in the range and capability of the North Korean missile.

In a congressional hearing held in late March, U.S. Forces Korea Commander James Thurman was asked if North Korea had the ability in the near future to fire a ballistic missile that could reach the continental United States.

Thurman said North Korea, at its current pace of development, would soon be able to build a missile that poses a serious threat to the United States.

Meanwhile, DPRK state media reports that 30-odd news reporters and journalists have begun arriving to observe the U’nha-3/KMS-3 launch.  Xinhua reports:

Some 30 foreign reporters from around the world are in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) capital to cover the country’s satellite launch, the official news agency KCNA reported Saturday.

According to the report, a total of 21 foreign media, including major world wire services and television broadcasters such as the AP, CNN and NBC of the United States, Channel One (the First Channel TV) of Russia, Kyodo News Agency and NHK of Japan, AFP of France, and Reuters and BBC of Britain, have sent reporters to Pyongyang.

Also on Saturday, Pyongyang bureaus of Xinhua and other foreign media received an invitation to attend authorities-organized activities relating to the launch on Sunday, but no further details were revealed.

The DPRK announced on March 16 it would launch the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th birthday of late leader Kim Il-Sung.

The “earth observation” satellite, to be carried by a long-range Unha-3 rocket, will be launched south of Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province, the KCNA reported.

On March 17, the Korean Committee for Space Technology (KCST) extended invitations for foreign experts and journalists to visit the “Sohae” Satellite Launching Station, the General Satellite Control and Command Center and other places and observe the launch.

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