North Korea maps out detailed plan for missile launches to sea off Guam

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea offered a glimpse into its plans to fire missiles near Guam in photos released by its state media on Tuesday, as leader Kim Jong Un was briefed on the plans drawn up by the army amid heightened tensions with the United States.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Kim was seen holding a baton and pointing at a map reading “Strategic Force’s Firing Strike Plan”, which showed a flight path for the missiles appearing to start from North Korea’s east coast, then flying over Japan and ending near Guam, as Pyongyang announced last week.

The launch location seen in the map appeared to be in the vicinity of Sinpo, the east coastal city that hosts North Korea’s submarine base, said Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

Kim said the location near Sinpo fits with what North Korea outlined last week - that four intermediate-range missiles will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan, fly 3,356.7 km (2,085.8 miles) for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 km (18 to 25 miles) from Guam.

“Every North Korean must have seen this photo on TV and newspapers. North Korea is showing its confidence, telling the United States: if they want to stop it they can try,” he said. “It also signals that the North has been studying this for a long time and getting ready to act if it decided to.”

Tension on the Korean peninsula has risen over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, with North Korea and the United States exchanging a flurry of strong rhetoric, each threatening military action, in recent days.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned on Monday that the U.S. military would be prepared to intercept a missile fired by North Korea if it was headed to Guam, while the North’s leader Kim Jong Un alerted his army that it should always be fire-ready.

In 2013 when tensions ran high as North Korea threatened missile strikes on U.S. Pacific bases, including Guam and Hawaii, it also released photographs of Kim inside his military command center signing the order to put rockets on standby to attack the U.S. mainland.

The pictures then showed a large chart titled “U.S. mainland strike plan” and it was seen targeting U.S. regions such as Hawaii, Washington D.C., and Texas.

North Korea has never carried out its threats to hit U.S. Pacific bases or mainland.

For the Guam briefing, Kim was seen acting as a commander in chief flanked by other army generals. Among the generals was Kim Jong Sik, a veteran rocket scientist and one of the masterminds behind North Korea’s missile program.

The briefing took place in a war room where other maps of operational zones in South Korea and Japan were hanging on a wall right behind the North’s leader. A black-and-white satellite imagery was seen on the left side of him.

Kim received the briefing on Monday when he inspected the command of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) Strategic Force, the North’s Korea Central News Agency said on Tuesday.

He was welcomed by scores of soldiers at the army command, showed photos released separately by state-owned Korean Central Television as well as its official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

Kim, who praised the army for drawing up a “close and careful plan”, said he will watch the actions of the United States for a while longer before making a decision on whether to go ahead with missile launches toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, the report said.

Reporting By Jane Chung and Ju-min Park, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Michael Perry