President Donald Trump’s comments on Tuesday that North Korea was destroying a major missile engine testing site seemed to support a recent U.S. study that the country was razing a facility that had been crucial to its development of mid-range solid-fuel missiles.
Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un informed him of this development during their summit in Singapore, but did not give a location for the site. Trump was defending the wording of a joint statement between the leaders that offered only vague aspirations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while saying that Kim has genuine interest to relinquish his nuclear program.
In a study published last week in the North Korea-focused 38 North website, U.S. analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. said recent commercial satellite images showed the North was razing a missile test stand near the northwest city of Kusong.
Bermudez said the stand was North Korea’s only known facility used for land-based and canister-launched missile ejection tests that were critical for developing the solid-fuel Pukguksong-2 missiles. The stand could also have been used for testing larger canister-based ballistic missiles, such as an intercontinental ballistic missile displayed during a military parade in Pyongyang in April last year, he wrote.
Satellite images shot on May 19 showed many of the facility’s key structures, including impact pads, have been razed, Bermudez said. He said it was unclear whether the destruction of the stand is an indication that the North is suspending this portion of its missile program or whether it plans to erect other similar facilities in the future.
North Korea declared the Pukguksong-2 as ready for mass production and operational deployment in May last year, after a successful flight test that saw the missile fly about 500 kilometers (310 miles) at a height of 560 kilometers (350 miles) before crashing into the sea.
Pukguksong-2’s development raised concerns in South Korea because solid-fuel missiles are much easier to move and launch on short notice compared to weapons using liquid fuel. North Korea also last year detonated a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight-tested three developmental ICBMs that demonstrated potential range to reach mainland American cities.