SEOUL • Recent satellite photos suggest North Korea could be preparing for fresh submarine-based ballistic missile tests, an expert on its military said.
Mr Joseph Bermudez, a specialist in North Korean defence and intelligence affairs, posted photographs on the authoritative 38 North blog of the US- Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, which he said could show preparations for a test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), Agence France-Presse reported.
"Recent commercial satellite imagery reveals several developments suggesting that North Korea may be accelerating the development of the sea-based leg of its nuclear forces," he said.
Mr Bermudez's comments came as North Korea said yesterday that nearly 3.5 million workers, party members and soldiers have requested to join or rejoin the army in order to fight back against the United States, as tensions escalate between the two sides, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
He noted that activity on a Sinpo-class experimental ballistic missile submarine at the Mayang-do navy shipyard and submarine base suggests "the North may be preparing for a new series of 'at sea' test launches, has undertaken modifications or upgrades to the submarine's launch systems, or is developing a more advanced version of the Pukguksong-1".
The Pukguksong-1 is an SLBM first successfully test-launched on Aug 24 last year, AFP reported. That missile flew 500km towards Japan, which leader Kim Jong Un said at the time put the US mainland within striking range from a Pacific-based submarine. Mr Bermudez said the preparations at the submarine in recent weeks match those ahead of previous tests.
Tensions between the US and North Korea have escalated over the latter's recent gains in nuclear weapons technology and its successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that theoretically could hit cities on the US east coast.
A proven SLBM system would take North Korea's nuclear strike threat to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a "second-strike" capability in the event of an attack on its military bases, reported AFP.
Meanwhile, Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's Workers' Party, said that 3.475 million people, including students, young workers and retired soldiers, have volunteered to enlist or re-enlist in the army in retaliation against the US after new United Nations economic sanctions were imposed on North Korea two weeks ago.
On Aug 5, the UN Security Council voted unanimously for fresh sanctions on North Korea, after it launched two ICBM tests last month. This led Pyongyang to threaten to launch a missile strike around the US territory of Guam.
"All the people are rising up across the country to retaliate against the US thousands of times. In North Hwanghae Province, 89,000 young men pleaded to enlist or re-enlist on Aug 9 alone. In Daedong County of South Pyongan Province, more than 20,000 students, party members and labourers filed enlistment or re-enlistment requests," the newspaper said.
Last week, Korean Central Television, a media outlet of the North, reported that North Korean youth and students were holding rallies nationwide to make public their wish to enter the military, Yonhap reported.
Diplomats have described the latest sanctions as the "most stringent" against the reclusive nation for its nuclear programme, Bloomberg reported.
The sanctions extend beyond the conventional exports cited in the Security Council resolution - coal, iron ore, lead ore and seafood. They also freeze the assets of some of North Korea's biggest companies, including a maker of massive monuments and a Pyongyang-based insurance company linked to a slush fund for leader Kim Jong Un and his family.