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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Tongch'ang-dong Missile and Space Launch Facility
Pongdong-Ni / Tongchang-Ni

By Tim Brown
Senior Fellow
Globalsecurity.org

Imagery 3 June 2009 Overview

Summary


Overview of the North Korea showing the general location of the two missile sites. Credit: Globalsecurity.org and DigitalGlobe
Overview of the North Korea showing the general location of the two missile sites.
Credit: Globalsecurity.org and DigitalGlobe.

Newly released commercial satellite imagery shows that a new missile and space launch center located on North Korea's northwest coast appears to be operational. The facility, located near the small town of Tongch'ang-dong, represents North Korea's continued commitment to testing and developing long-range ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles. This new facility will give North Korea the increased capability to test rocket motors and launch missiles and space launch vehicles year-round.


Overview of the Tongch'ang-dong launch center in relation to the border with China
Overview of the Tongch'ang-dong launch center in relation to the border with China.
Credit: Globalsecurity.org and Google Earth.

The choice of location has two implications. Tongch'ang-dong is about 114 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of the capital Pyongyang, and about 47 kilometers (30 miles) south of the border with China. It provides North Korea with a southern launch corridor that avoids direct over-flight of neighboring South Korea and Japan. The location also complicates US airborne and seaborne surveillance and intelligence collection, because of it is on the northern portion of the Yellow Sea between China and North Korea. The U.S. would be reluctant to send aircraft such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint1, RC-135 Cobra Ball2, or the U-2R3 into the area, to avoid another “EP-3A incident”.45 Unmanned drones such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk6 could be used, but would probably be intercepted and shot down.

The kind of intelligence data that these platforms could provide the U.S., includes thermal and infrared signatures of the rocket motors while firing from the static test stand, activity levels during normal, pre-launch and launch and telemetry of the missile or space launch vehicle during launch.7 The Tongch’ang-dong complex is also physically dispersed, with the launch site, rocket motor test pad, vehicle assembly and checkout buildings, and the headquarters located in different valleys protected from surface observation.


Overview of the Tongch'ang-dong launch complex as of 3 June 2009
Overview of the Tongch'ang-dong launch complex as of 3 June 2009.
Credit: Globalsecurity.org and DigitalGlobe.

The Musudan-ri launch site, which has been the primary launch and test site North Korea has used for the past 20 years, is located in a remote part of the country while the new location is much easier to support with close access to road and rail lines of communication.

Reports of Launch Preparations

News reports indicate that North Korea is making logistical preparations for a new round of ballistic missile tests8. According to news sources, US intelligence satellites have observed ground vehicle movement at a missile research and development facility north of Pyongyang. There also have been fragmentary reports of a specially equipped train carrying a long-range missile to one of the two launch sites.9 Since February of 2009, visible construction progress at the launch site suggests that the launch site is operational.


Construction progress of the launch site between February and June of 2009
Construction progress of the launch site between February and June of 2009.
Credit: Globalsecurity.org and DigitalGlobe.


Construction progress of the launch site between September 2002 and January 2011
Evolution overview of the construction of the launch site between September 2002 and January 2011.
Credit: Globalsecurity.org, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye

Political Context

The test launch of the Unha-2 rocket on April 5 th, and the underground nuclear test at P'unggye-yok on May 25 th, caused the United Nations Security Council to unanimously condemned the test and adopted resolution 187410 under Chapter VII, which expanded its weapons import-export ban on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by calling on States to inspect, seize and dispose of the items and by denying fuel or supplies to service the vessels carrying them. North Korea has vowed to defy the ban, and has threatened addition missile launches and nuclear tests. In addition, DPRK’s dictator Kim Jong IL, is reportedly in bad health due to complication of a reported stroke in 2008 and has named his third son Kim Jong Un, successor. The DPRK leadership succession process is not transparent, and it is not clear who is really in charge of North Korea. There has been speculation that a new round of missile and nuclear tests are directed at influencing the senior leadership of the North Korean regime.

In any case, activities at both missile test sites, Musudan-ri and Tongch’ang-dong and at the nuclear test site near P'unggye-yok, have taken on a heightened significance. North Korea has used ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests in the past, to try to show resolve, increase bargaining position at the Six-party talks11, and to defy the United Nations and the International Community.

Background on Tongch’ang-dong Missile Facility

For the past seven years, North Korea has been building a second missile launch facility on its northwest coast. Construction began at least before September 2001 and has continued to the present day. Portions of the facility are not finished, but the most important parts; the launch site, static rocket engine test stand, vehicle assembly building and the high-bay processing building appear to be complete and operational.


Comparison of two Landsat-7 images showing the start of construction some time before 2001
Comparison of two Landsat-7 images showing the start of construction some time before 2001.
Credit: Globalsecurity.org and the Global Land Cover Facility.

The entire facility occupies over six square kilometers, and consists of a launch site, a static rocket motor test stand, vehicle checkout and processing buildings, a launch control building, a large support area, a complex headquarters building and an entry control point. Tracking and telemetry facilities have yet to be identified. A single all-weather road connects the launch facility to a rail-to-road-transfer-point located at the town of Ch’olsan, over 15 kilometers (over 9 miles) to the north.


Perspective view showing the road between the town of Ch'olsan and the launch site
Perspective view showing the road between the town of Ch'olsan and the launch site.
Credit: Globalsecurity.org and DigitalGlobe and Google Earth.


Overview of the Ch'olsan rail station. This is where the missile canisters will/have been unloaded for road transport
Overview of the Ch'olsan rail station. This is where the missile canisters will/have been unloaded for road transport.
Credit:Globalsecurity.org and DigitalGlobe (Worldview-1 satellite)

Naming Convention

As a convention, the Tongch’ang-dong Missile and Space Launch Facility is used throughout this text to refer to this facility, until the US Intelligence Community reveals its official designator. It is a standard convention that a facility is named by using the name of the closest populated place. The small group of dwellings known as Pongdong-ni is the closest populated place. The village of Tongch'ang-dong one kilometer to the north is also a possibility. Various news organizations have used the name Dongchong-ni. Pongdong-ni, Dongchong-ni and Tongch’ang-dong all refer to the same facility.


Russian map showing the names of the village near the launch site
Russian map showing the names of the village near the launch site.
Credit Globalsecurity.org and Eastview Cartographic.


1 http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/rivet_joint.htm

2 http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/cobra_ball.htm

3http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/u-2-variants.htm

4 In April of 2001 A US EP-3E Aries II surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese J-8 fighter in international airspace south of China ’s Hainan Island , resulting in the death of the Chinese fighter pilot and the emergency landing of the EP-3A on Hainan Island . The Chinese interrogated and held the crew for 10 days until they were finally released.

5 Navy surface combatants equipped with AEGIS radars would be ideal to track any missile launches from Tongch’ang-dong, but cannot operate in the North Yellow Sea due to North Korea’s and China’s claim of 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone under the Law of the Sea Treaty which covers the entire Yellow Sea.

6  http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/global_hawk.htm

7 Thermal and infrared signatures, fall within the Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) intelligence discipline.

8 Satellite spots activity at North Korean missile site, officials say, CNN.com/Asia updated 6:20 p.m. EDT , Fri May 29, 2009 http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/29/nkorea.missile/

9 Yonhap news agency via Taiwan News online – accessed 1 July 2009

http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=980616&lang=eng_news&cate_img=logo_world&cate_rss=WORLD_eng

10 http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sc9679.doc.htm

11 http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/dprk/2005/wwwh80502.htm




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