SEOUL (Reuters) - Satellite images show North Korea has likely completed a second long range missile launchpad, an expert said on Thursday, amid U.S. concerns that Pyongyang's ballistic missile program is fast becoming a direct threat.
The launchpad is more sophisticated than the country's first facility and strikingly similar to a Chinese site, suggesting Beijing's involvement, Tim Brown, an image analyst from military analysis group globalsecurity.org, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
And he said the reclusive North, which says its missile program is peaceful and intended to put a satellite in orbit, was working on development together with Iran and Pakistan.
The facility at Tongchang-ri is equipped with a 100-ft (30-m) launch tower and is sited near North Korea's northwest border with China, making it more difficult for U.S. intelligence to observe compared to its Musudan-ri launchpad in the east.
The Tongchang-ri site has been under construction for a decade.
Brown, who identified the latest development, said the images were taken about a month ago, and that there were no signs of an imminent test launch. He said it would take weeks, possibly months, to put a rocket on the launchpad.
A South Korean government official also said there were no signs the North was preparing a missile test.
The North is developing the so-called Taepodong-2 missile, with an estimated range of 6,700 km (4,160 miles), but testing so far suggests production of the complete weapon is a long way off.
The North's arsenal already includes intermediate-range missiles that can hit targets up to 3,000 km (1,860 miles) away, officials say, putting all of Japan and U.S. military bases in Guam at risk.
"Basically this thing is done, and the question is how long it will be before they launch. Then it is matter of what kind of vehicle are they going to launch -- a missile or something for their space program. The answer to that is we just don't know," said Brown. A launch, he said, was likely in months.
He said the site was nowhere near the standard of advanced countries. "But it's as close as a third world country can come to having a first world facility," he said.
Brown said the facility was very similar in design to a Chinese site being monitored. "Either they adopted those design characteristics on their own, or the Chinese were technically advising them and providing assistance."
He said Iran, Pakistan and North Korea were working together on missile and nuclear programs. "We think they all work on different aspects and share and benefit from comparative advantages of each program," said Brown.
The North Korean site is seen as key to Pyongyang's quest to build a missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon across the Pacific.
Experts say they do not believe the North can miniaturize an atomic weapon to place on a missile, but it is trying to develop such a warhead. It needs more nuclear testing to build one.