North Korea has made an unprecedented move, allowing Western journalists to take photos of an up-to-date ballistic missile due for launch this week to put a weather satellite in orbit. Alarmed Japan and South Korea are preparing to shoot it down.
The three-stage Unha-3 rocket is going to be launched starting from April 12 to 16 from a new Sohae launch pad in woodland some 50 kilometers from the border with China.
The Unha-3 appears to be the upgraded version of the rocket fired by North Korea in 2009. It is the same liquid-fueled three-stage ballistic missile, with a hitting range capability this time greater than 6,700 kilometers. The previous North Korean rocket launched in 2009 went down after a 3,800 kilometer flight – which was enough to fly over Japan. The payload capability could be of up to one tonne, be it a nuclear warhead or a scientific satellite.
The new North Korean rocket is supposedly capable of reaching America’s Alaska, which is exactly 6,000 kilometers away.
South Korea, Japan and the US fear the 30-meter rocket launch has little to do with space exploration and its only purpose is to test latest developments by North Korean engineers to deliver a nuclear warhead at a truly long range.
The director of the Sohae site Jang Myong-jin told visiting foreign journalists on Sunday that North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un “made a very bold decision, that is why you are allowed to be this close to the launch site.”
The new rocket demanded a new rocket site and the construction of the new Sohae launch pad was started in 2007. Today it is a sophisticated and technically-advanced facility for assembly and launch of either a space booster rocket. Or perhaps an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The international community remains very much disapproving of the North Korean rocket test.
Seoul promised to take the issue to the UN if the test is carried out and warned it will destroy any part of the rocket that gets too close to South Korea. Tokyo issued orders to intercept the rocket if it flies over Japanese territory. The US has condemned the launch as a violation of UN Resolution 1874. Russia turned down Pyongyang’s invitation to witness the launch.
Undeterred, North Korea refused to halt its rocket program and promised it will be testing more ballistic missiles in the future.