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Analysts: N. Korea completing missile test site

  • Story Highlights
  • Previously undisclosed site can launch long-range ballistic missiles and satellites
  • Site is larger, more sophisticated than the decades-old Musudan-ni launch pad
  • New site will enable numerous tests necessary to perfect a missile system
  • Will take year or two to complete site, though it could already launch a missile
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From National Security Producer Pam Benson
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The North Koreans are nearing completion on a previously undisclosed missile test site capable of launching long-range ballistic missiles and satellites, according to private analysts who obtained satellite imagery of the site.

Joseph Bermudez, a senior analyst with Jane's Information Group, told CNN the Pongdong-ni facility is about 30 miles from the Chinese border and is much larger and far more sophisticated than the decades-old, publicly known Musudan-ni launch pad in eastern North Korea.

Bermudez said the North Koreans have devoted significant resources to this facility despite economic hardship. "This is a national program in their desire to expand both their space launch and ballistic missile launch programs," he said.

Tim Brown, an imagery analyst who has tracked the satellite photos with Bermudez, said the site could be used to test North Korea's Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile, which is believed to have a range of approximately 2,500 miles, capable of striking Alaska.

A test of the Taepodong-2 missile in 2006 failed 40 seconds after launching from the Musudan-ni site.

Satellite imagery analyst John Pike said the old launch site is incapable of handling the numerous tests necessary to perfect a missile system. Pike, who has reviewed the new imagery, says Pongdong-ni will give the North Koreans that capability.

A U.S. official said the intelligence community has known about the secret North Korean facility for several years and is monitoring it closely. "It's been on our radar screen for some time," said the official.

According to Bermudez, it will take another year or two for the North Koreans to complete construction of the Pongdong-ni facility. However, Bermudez believes they could launch a missile from the site now if they wanted to do so.

The moveable launch pad and a 10-story tower to support the missiles and rockets are in place, Bermudez said. The North Koreans still need to finish work on a vertical building that would be used to assemble a missile before it is moved to the launch pad, he added.

When the facility is up and running, Bermudez said, North Korea will be able to test rocket engines with missiles in their fully assembled state. The vibrations produced by the engines will help determine whether everything is stable, including the warhead. That will help the North Koreans validate their weapon designs, he said.

He indicated that capability would be "very valuable" if the North Koreans try to develop the delivery of a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile.

North Korea conducted an underground test of a nuclear device two years ago and is believed to have six to 12 nuclear weapons.

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