North Korea has started moving what is believed to be a new long-range ballistic missile potentially capable of hitting the U.S. mainland to its eastern coast, apparently in preparation for a launch.
Japanese, U.S. and South Korean government sources said the missile is likely the one codenamed KN-08, which the North Korean military claims has a range of 10,000 kilometers.
But the sources added that it could be a different type, such as the medium-range Musudan missile.
The missile is being transported on a cargo train to the Sea of Japan coast, home to the Musudan-ri and Kittaeryong missile bases, according to the sources.
A U.S. intelligence satellite appears to have captured images of the train carrying the missile.
In April 2009, an improved version of the long-range Taepodong-2 was launched from Musudan-ri, in North Hamgyong province. Three months later, Rodong and other missiles were launched from Kittaeryong, in Kangwon province.
The Musudan missile design is based on the SS-N-6, a submarine-launched ballistic missile developed by the former Soviet Union. North Korea has apparently redesigned the Musudan into the KN-08.
Specifics of both the KN-08 and the Musudan remain unknown because neither missile has ever been test-fired.
Military experts believe that the 18-meter-long KN-08 has a range of 6,000 kilometers, shorter than what Pyongyang claims.
A new missile believed to be the KN-08 was unveiled during a military parade in Pyongyang in April 2012, mounted on a Chinese-made military vehicle for transporting and launching ballistic missiles.
The KN-08 is considered a threat because it can be readied for a launch in a short time and fired from various sites via a movable pad, making a pre-emptive strike difficult.
North Korea could be deploying the new missile for a launch around April 15, the 101st anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's founder.
Knowledgeable sources said Pyongyang has come under increasing pressure to win concessions from Japan, the United States and South Korea as the anniversary approaches.
As of April 2, North Korea had not set an off-limits area in nearby waters.
The country may be moving the missile to the Sea of Japan coast to avoid the risk of it falling back onto domestic soil after a launch.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, USS John S. McCain, a destroyer equipped with the Aegis missile defense system, has been sent to the Western Pacific.
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