The Unha-3 Rocket on the Launchpad at Sohae makes it clear that there's room for larger rockets at the site. The DPRK may already have them.

The Unha-3 Rocket on the Launchpad at Sohae makes it clear that there's room for larger rockets at the site. The DPRK may already have them.

When on-site pictures of North Korea’s newest Unha-3 rocket at the launch platform at the Sohae (Tongch’ang-dong/Pongdong-ri) first hit the media, my initial thought was that it “looked quite small surrounded by all those platforms and gantries.” Compared to Tonghae site where Unha-2 was launched, there appeared great room for Sohae to support larger rocket systems.

While Songhae was already estimated to be capable of larger rocket systems pre-media visit, the deluge of journalists’ pictures from this past week’s site visitation served to confirm DPRK watchers’ worries.

Unconfirmed reports are now suggesting that these rocket systems might be closer to realization than we believe:

North Korea is building a missile that is even bigger than the long-range missile it is preparing to launch this month, sources claimed Monday. South Korean and U.S. officials believe the North will unveil the missile at a military parade on April 15, nation founder Kim Il-sung’s centenary, or on April 25, which marks the founding day of the North’s Army.

A government source here said U.S. reconnaissance satellites recently spotted a 40-m missile at a research and development facility in Pyongyang that is larger than the existing Taepodong-2 missile. “It remains uncertain whether this missile is functional or is just a life-sized mock-up,” the official added.

The rocket North Korea is preparing to launch soon is apparently 32 m long, the same as the Taepodong-2 that was launched in April 2009 with a maximum range of 6,700 km. The new missile is believed to be larger and equipped with a bigger booster that gives it a maximum range of more than 10,000 km, making it capable of reaching the continental U.S. (Source Chosun Ilbo)

The Taepodong-2 missile system and Unha rocket systems are virtually the same, with semantic difference emerging when referring to either DPRK’s ballistic missile programs or space programs, respectively. This indicates that the U.S. source quoted above has potentially seen a ballistic missile system 8-10 meters larger than the Unha-3 rocket currently sitting on the launch pad at Sohae.

With a space launch and possible nuclear tests, Kim Jong-Un isn’t pulling any punches for celebrating his grandfather’s 100th birthday. If these systems are ready, there aren’t many reasons why he wouldn’t debut his country’s newest weapons achievement during the bevvy of celebrations to occur.

There’s a good chance we’ll see a new ballistic missile paraded through the streets of Pyongyang this weekend.

h/t to 38 North for alerting me to Chosun Ilbo’s article, as well as an excellent breakdown of how a new rocket will find itself well cared for at Sohae.

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch