Major construction activity is underway at North Korea's Sohae satellite launching station, according to reports by a pair of U.S. think tanks. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for the site to be upgraded in March. File Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- North Korea has made "dramatic progress" in upgrading and modernizing its Sohae satellite launching station, according to a U.S. think tank, a move that will potentially aid the nuclear-armed state in developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Commercial satellite imagery analyzed by Beyond Parallel, a North Korea-focused project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, shows that major construction activity in the eastern half of the site has taken place over the past two months.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the station in March and called for modernizing and expanding the facility to handle bigger rocket launches.
In addition to renovation work on and around the launch pad, construction of new buildings, roads and a large underground facility or tunnel is underway.
"Dramatic and ongoing modernization plans at Sohae Satellite Launching Station will provide North Korea with a relatively comprehensive complex capable of launching larger and more sophisticated satellite launch vehicles," the report, released on Wednesday, said.
The upgrade will also "support technology development ... useable by North Korea's emerging intercontinental ballistic missile programs," the report assessed.
In March, Pyongyang lifted a self-imposed moratorium and launched its first ICBM since 2017. The secretive state had previously fired components of the missile system under the guise of satellite tests, according to Washington and Seoul.
Construction work at the Sohae facility was also reported on Wednesday by 38 North, a website affiliated with Washington-based think tank The Stimson Center. The report noted "significant activity" underway at the site, including a new road network that will connect the complex to towns and the sea on the east coast.
North Korea has conducted a record number of ballistic missile and weapons test this year, and tensions remain elevated after the two Koreas exchanged warning shots near their de facto maritime border in the Yellow Sea on Monday.
U.S. and South Korean officials have assessed that North Korea is getting ready to conduct a nuclear detonation at any time. On Tuesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told lawmakers that the North has completed preparations for the test, which would be its seventh overall and first since 2017.