Korea Times 2000/01/12 (Wed)

Satellite Photos Show N.Korean Launch Site to be Primitive

Satellite photos of a North Korean launch site show it to consist of little more than a bare-bones launch pad off an unpaved country road, which stirred a debate here Tuesday over whether the North Korean missile threat has been hyped.

The photos of the site in Nodong, North Korea were taken privately by the commercial satellite firm Space Imaging on November 1 and posted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that advocates disarmament.

``It is fittingly paradoxical that tens of billions of dollars should have been spent, and a range of national policies have been reoriented, on account of this distressing modest and underwhelming missile test facility,'' said organization in a statement.

``It's the mouse that roared,'' John Pike, director of the organization's space program, told the New York Times, which first reported the release of the satellite photos.

``Well, the mouse has not only roared, it's fired a missile,'' retorted Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon. ``And we know that, it's undeniable, the missile was fired over Japan, it created quite a stir.''

The group of six satellite photos includes an image of the launch pad and support gantry for the Taepo-dong missile, which shocked the world when it was fired over Japan in August 1998.

Other photos show a building to assemble missiles, another that appears to house a range control facility and a support area with at least four single story buildings, according to FAS' analysis.

``The most noteworthy features of the Nodong facility are those that are entirely absent: paved roads, propellant storage, and staff housing that would be needed to support an extensive test facility,'' FAS said.

``The modest ambitions of the North Korean test program are clearly revealed by the scale and nature of the Nodong test facility, which is surely the antithesis to Cape Canaveral,'' it said.

It said the facility ``gives every evidence of consisting of a temporary encampment to which crews might repair from time to time to test their handiwork.''

``There is a complete absence of any manner of industrial support or other test facilities, and the bare-bones test infrastructure is connected by no more than a spidery network of unpaved trails,'' it said.

The Pentagon's response: So what?

``We've always known that North Korea has primitive facilities, that it is far behind us technologically, but that it devotes an enormous amount of money, energy and manpower to developing weapons of mass destructions and the means to deliver them,'' said Bacon.

``So I'm not sure that the fact that the launch facility is primitive makes the missiles any less threatening,'' he said.