North Korea’s Undisclosed Missile Bases
By: Jeff Bates
There are a number of missile bases in North Korea that have not been located. Although there is a fair amount of knowledge available through open sources about North Korea’s weapons programs, it is rather difficult to detect missile bases that have not already been exposed (Davenport, Kelsey. 2019). It is estimated that there are 20 or more missile bases that are unregistered, with only 13 being discovered so far. This estimate was arrived at through interviewing North Korean defectors. It is imperative that these bases be located in case of further provocations.
North Korea has a strategy with its location of missile bases. It has three missile belts located throughout the country. Bases with shorter range scud missiles are in what’s called the ‘tactical belt’, located 50-90 km north of the DMZ. The ‘operational belt’ extends further inland and stretches from Pyongyang to the Sea of Japan. This belt typically houses longer range scud missiles and indigenously made North Korean missiles. North West of the operational belt is the ‘strategic belt’. Here, long-range strike missiles such as Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and the North Korean Taepodong 1 Medium Range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) are located. All these areas are most likely to be the location of undiscovered missile bases, except that North Korea may be deceptively operating bases in different locations in the country.
As sanctions continue to burden North Korea, there is the possibility of rebellion or mass protests. This could result in the loss of governmental control over the country. If this were to happen, chemical, nuclear, and conventional weapons could very well fall into the hands of individuals or factions that would represent a grave threat to South Korea or the United States.
If there happens to be a provocation between North Korea and South Korea or the US, it is crucial to find any undiscovered missile bases. This is because some bases have underground missile silos that could be launch ICBMs or scud missiles in a surprise attack. Mobile Erector Launchers (MELs) pose a threat, but less so after they launch their missiles because it would take about 30 minutes for the MELs to refuel another missile. Within this time frame, the military and intelligence units would be able to spot where the launcher is and be able to destroy it before it could launch more missiles. However, the underground silos are nearly impossible to locate with open source capabilities.
Tensions between North Korea and the United States and its ally, South Korea, remain high. Additionally, there is a possibility of a missile base commander going rogue and launching missiles into South Korea and/or the United States. To counter any missile threats, the US has deployed batteries of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems in South Korea. THAAD would be able to destroy ballistic missiles headed for South Korea or the United States in case any missiles are launched in a pre-emptive strike or conventional war. Additionally, there are Navy ships deployed off the coast of Korea that can shoot down missiles headed toward the United States and South Korea.
Bermudez, Joseph; Cha, Victor; Collins, Lisa. 2018. Undeclared North Korea: Missile Operating Bases Revealed Beyond Parallel. Accessed from
Davenport, Kelsey. 2019. Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy. Arms Control Association. Accessed March 14, 2019 from https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron