Recent satellite images show that North Korea has completed a launch tower at its new missile base, a key step in efforts to test a missile which could eventually reach the United States, experts say.
An image taken on January 10 of the Tongchang-ri base on the west coast shows a moveable launch pad and swing arms along with the tower.
It was disclosed by VOA News this week and was posted on the website of US defence information group GlobalSecurity.org, prompting a senior US military commander to describe the development as a “major concern”.
The new base is seen as a key step in the North’s quest for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could possibly strike the United States, GlobalSecurity.org said.
It is bigger and more advanced than the Musudan-ri base on the east coast, which the North used to launch long-range missiles in 1998, 2006 and 2009.
The North has enough nuclear material for an estimated six to eight weapons but it is unclear whether it has the technology to create a nuclear warhead for a missile.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned last month that North Korea could have missiles within five years that would directly threaten the United States.