North Korea has developed a secret underground facility near its border with China, purportedly to house long-range ballistic missiles, a US think tank claims.
North Korea, officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has begun this year with a flurry of weapons tests. It tested 11 missiles in January alone, including the Hwasong-12 intermediate ballistic missile, spurring the US to request additional UN sanctions.
A team of analysts from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) claims to have discovered an underground, regiment-size military installation, which is most likely used to house North Korean ICBMs within around 15 miles from the Chinese border, according to a report released on February 7.
NEW: Satellite images show North Korea's Hoejung-ni missile operating base.
According to informed sources, the base will likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles (#ICBM).
— CSIS (@CSIS) February 8, 2022
The newly built missile site, which is located in a small, isolated wooded mountain valley in Chagang province, is considered one of North Korea’s 20 secret missile bases now in operation.
The location was chosen, according to analysts, to dissuade US preemptive strikes against North Korea’s most crucial weapons as the government continues to grow and modernize its arsenal.
The report also mentioned that the Hoejong-ni base would soon be armed with intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and, eventually, with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The site provides room for ballistic missile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL).
Experts believe North Korea has positioned the four missile units in underground facilities near Jagang Province and North Pyongan Province, including the Hoejong-ni base, all of which are close to China’s border.
The report noted that when the base is equipped with missiles, “Then the unit will represent a vital component of what is presumed to be North Korea’s evolving ballistic missile strategy, expanding existing strategic-level deterrence and strike capabilities.”
Significance Of The Location
North Korea has long kept its most valuable military weapons stashed in underground facilities. Stepping ahead, the nation made extensive efforts in recent years to make it more difficult for the US and its allied forces to locate its most lethal weapons by putting them not just too deep below the surface but also close to the Chinese border.
“The position near the Chinese border acts as a potential deterrent to a pre-emptive strike that might impinge on Chinese security equities,” said Victor Cha, a senior vice president and North Korea expert at CSIS.
Choe Sang-Hun, Seoul bureau chief for The New York Times, noted, “The location also allows Pyongyang to keep its most prized weapons far from South Korea’s stealth jets and conventional missiles, the range and destructive power of which have increased in recent years to target the underground facilities.”
The initial reports of construction at Hoejung-ni and the adjoining Yeongjeo-dong facilities came in 2018. However, the latest report confirmed Hoejung-ni as an ICBM base. Using satellite images, the new report provides details on entrances to the underground facilities, support structures, and fortified drive-through concrete shelters.
CSIS experts have identified Hoejung-ni as the second probable ICBM facility in North Korea. In 2019, Yusang-ni, a base 39 miles northeast of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, was discovered.
— CSIS (@CSIS) July 11, 2019
North Korea staged its last ICBM test in November 2017. It then claimed that its nuclear-tipped ICBM can target any part of the continental United States. If North Korea launches an ICBM this year, it will most probably be from vehicles stationed at a site like Hoejung-ni.
In addition, Pyongyang tested a Hwasong-12 IRBM on January 30 from Chagang province, where the Hoejung-ni base is located. Pyongyang previously stated that the Hwasong-12 is capable of carrying a nuclear payload and hitting the US territory of Guam.
The recent missile launches have also sparked fears that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will abandon a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing that he placed on his country in 2018 following an unexpected summit with former US President Donald Trump.
Why N.Korea Keeping Missiles Underground?
Following heavy losses inflicted by the American airpower during the 1950-53 Korean War, North Korea started concealing its military equipment underground in 1962. It reportedly has 6,000 to 8,000 underground facilities, improving the country’s ability to withstand surprise attacks.
Many underground facilities are being built beneath the northern slopes of China’s steep mountains. This makes it difficult for American and South Korean jets to strike them without unsettling Beijing.
Since underground facilities are difficult to identify by satellites, pinpointing them has been a significant obstacle for American and South Korean military strategists for years. Some are intended to serve as decoys. Others may be tucked away beneath conventional houses.
The Pentagon briefed Congress in 2017 that a ground invasion would be the only option to “locate and destroy — with complete certainty — all components of North Korea’s nuclear programs.”
In a paper published in 2015, Maj. Park Sung-man, an officer with the South Korean Army’s Special Warfare Command, said that an underground facility in North Korea is so tightly fortified that soldiers who work there can only have access to their assigned area, making it extremely difficult to obtain a blueprint of the location.