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New satellite imagery shows that rather than winding down his missile capabilities, as U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed, Kim Jong Un is continuing to modernize his arsenal.
Images published Tuesday by the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies show a new facility that can launch intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting anywhere in the U.S.
The facility, located close to Pyongyang Airport, is almost complete, CSIS expert Joseph Bermudez said in an analysis of the commercial satellite images, adding that the Sil Li Ballistic Missile Support Facility “is almost certainly related to North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile program.”
Bermudez points to a high-bay building, visible in the images, that is large enough to accommodate the Hwasong-15, North Korea’s largest ICBM. Experts say the Hwasong-15 is capable of hitting anywhere in the U.S.
North Korea first test-fired it back in November 2017, and experts said at the time that it would take Pyongyang up to a year to make the missile operational.
The purpose of the site was unknown before the images were published this week, but construction on the site began in mid-2016 and the location was strategically chosen for its proximity to an underground facility that is large enough to accommodate all known North Korean ballistic missiles and their associated launchers and support vehicles, Bermudez says.
He predicts the site will be ready for operational use by the end of this year or early in 2021.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that he has singlehandedly removed the threat posed by North Korea, claiming without evidence that if the Democrats were in charge the U.S. would be at war with the hermit kingdom.
While North Korea did claim to close its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in 2018, experts believe that the Trump administration’s failure to sign a denuclearization deal with Pyongyang has allowed Kim to continue to expand the country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
“[The Sil Li site] is another component of the North Korean ballistic missile infrastructure that has been undergoing both modernization and expansion during the past 10 years,” Bermudez said in his report.
The revelation of North Korea’s new missile site comes just days after Kim appeared at the opening ceremony of a fertilizer plant in Sunchon, his first public appearance in almost three weeks during which there was fevered speculation about his ill health — and possible death.
While rumors that Kim underwent heart surgery persist, South Korea’s intelligence officials told lawmakers on Wednesday that his absence was likely linked to fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Cover: In this Friday, May 1, 2020, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, visits a fertilizer factory in Sunchon, South Pyongang province, near Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)