Update 2 – 2/5, 4:43 p.m. EST: Reuters reporting that fuel truck activity has been detected at North Korea’s launch site in Dongchang-ri, meaning that the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile could be set for lift-off by early next week.
Update – 2/5, 2:52 p.m. EST: Reuters is now reporting that the United States is also preparing to monitor North Korea’s ballistic missile launch through weapons defense systems aboard the USNS Howard O. Lorenzen, which was deployed to a Japanese port earlier this week. U.S. efforts will work in conjunction with South Korea and Japan.
The U.S. Navy also has the capability to locate fallen debris from the rocket, although it isn’t known yet whether that technology has been sent to the region.
After reports surfaced last week that North Korea may be preparing to launch another long-range rocket in the near-future, South Korea and Japan responded Wednesday by announcing separately that each plans to detonate any debris from a North Korean rocket that falls into their respective air-spaces.
Evidence of the launch was originally detected by Japanese satellite images that showed increased activity at the Dongchang-ri launch site in the North Korea’s western region.
Since the visual evidence was made public, Pyongyang confirmed with international organizations that they are indeed planning to launch a ballistic missile between Feb. 8 and 25, which will also be carrying an observation satellite.
Although the launch will violate resolutions of the UN Security Council, which prohibits North Korea from conducting any ballistic missile tests, Pyongyang remains defiant.
The rocket is expected to lift-off closer to Feb. 16, the date of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s late-father’s birthday.
According to North Korea’s announcement, and subsequent analysis by experts in the region, debris will fall west of the Korean Peninsula after stage one. Stage two debris will end up in the East China Sea, and stage three of the rocket will disengage off the eastern coast of the Philippines.
Both South Korea and Japan will be monitoring the North’s launch with sophisticated surveillance technology, and have capable weaponry at the ready to shoot down any particles which fall off Taepodong-2 (pictured here).
This particular rocket is in-fact a ballistic missile, which was also used by Pyongyang when they launched their first satellite into orbit in Dec. 2012.
According to a report by Japan’s Defense Ministry, Taepodong-2 is capable of reaching distances of more than 6,200 miles and “could have ranges that potentially reach the central, western, and other areas of the U.S. mainland.”
North Korea’s lone ally, China, has remained largely ambivalent about supporting UN sanctions on Pyongyang, which is significant given the Easter super-power’s influence as a member of the Security Council. However, Beijing called on North Korea to “exercise restraint” Wednesday, so not to put regional stability at risk.
As for America’s role, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, called the West’s alliance with South Korea and Japan “critical” to checking North Korea’s military and nuclear ambitions.
[AP] [Japan Times] [Photo courtesy AP]