North Korea is building artificial islands in the Yellow Sea along the nation’s west coast amid speculation the man-made islands have a military purpose.
“Over the past five years, North Korea has constructed several military facilities on small islands surrounding the city of Sohae, a leading missile development and testing site,” wrote Damen Cook of Strategic Sentinel in an article in The Diplomat in which he analyzed satellite images of the islands.
Cook said the development of the islands raises concerns, as does their location.
Sohae “is the prime research and development hub for key intercontinental ballistic missile technology,” he wrote. “Sohae is expected to host more missile tests in the coming years as North Korea focuses its efforts on ICBM development.”
Sohae was the site of a March launch testing Scud missiles,
Both Cook and Ryan Barenklau, chief executive of Strategic Sentinel, a Washington-based intelligence firm, said although a military purpose is inferred, it cannot be proven.
“We can’t make definitive statements as to what these islands are being used for,” Barenklau said.
However, he said the islands’ roads have wide turns, which the analysts say could indicate they might be used for transporting missile-bearing trucks. They think some rectangular areas might be made of heat-resistant cement, leading to speculation they could serve as launch pads.
“And they have observation areas, for someone like Kim Jong-Un to observe a missile launch,” Barenklau said. “Every time we see VIP buildings, that tells us there’s most likely a military application, because Kim Jong-Un likes to view the operations of whatever they’re building.”
This feature is why Barenklau believes the island-building project had a military use.
“At first we were really concerned about what the initial purpose of those islands are — whether they’re for military or agriculture purposes — but when we saw the observation decks, we thought, those are military,” he said.
Although some of the islands are in an areas where North Korea had a land reclamation project, one analyst said North Korea likes to hide its true purposes.
“The North Koreans build just about everything for dual purpose,” said Steve Sin, a researcher at the University of Maryland. “So, building something that is of military use on an agricultural project is certainly within its usual pattern.”
Sin said if the islands are intended to serve as missile bases, they would most likely be used for short-range missiles because of the logistical considerations in developing a launch site for longer-range missiles.
Regardless of what type of missile might be launched, if the islands are built for a military use it would illustrate North Korea’s “unwavering commitment to the continued development of its missile and space technology,” Sin said.