The December 7 Factory: Producer of Maxi Pads and Naval Stealth Technology

What has been identified as the “December 7 Factory” in North Korean media is located on the south bank of the Taedong-gang (Taedong River) in the Rangnang-guyok (Rakrang or Rangnang District) section of Pyongyang. Since its inception, the factory has been involved in the production of specialized naval vessels and military equipment. During the 2000s, in an effort to develop a non-military revenue stream, it launched product lines for civilian goods including boat renovations, playground equipment and feminine hygiene products.

Civilian Economic Activities

On December 10, 2010, Kim Jong Il visited the newly-built “Sanitary Goods Branch Factory at the December 7 Factory.”[1] It was the first stop in a day of guidance visits that were intended to demonstrate the leader’s attention to the needs of women. Official accounts of the visit allowed for the identification of the new branch factory in Rangnang-guyok on commercial satellite imagery.

Figure 1. The December 7 Factory (October 6, 2010).

Image ©2010 Google Earth.

Though little information on the factory is available publicly, Kim Jong Il’s visit revealed that one of the purposes of this large factory complex is to manufacture maxi pads. The brand name, Taedonggang, is one of three known brands of maxi pads that are sold domestically.

Figure 2. Taedonggang maxi pads manufactured at the December 7 Factory.

Photo: 38 North.

Following Kim Jong Il’s visit in December 2010, the December 7 Factory has not been mentioned by name in the North Korean media. However, on March 24, 2013, North Korean media reported that Kim Jong Un “…visited the restaurant boat Taedonggang being laid down by the KPA.”[2] Though the location of the restaurant boat was never identified in official reports, North Korean television footage and commercial satellite imagery show that the Taedonggang restaurant boat was being completed at the December 7 Factory from October 2012 through April 2013.

Figure 3. The Taedonggang restaurant boat (in yellow) docked at the December 7 Factory (March 2013).

Photo: KCTV.

Figure 4. The Taedonggang restaurant boat (yellow) at the December 7 Factory (March 12, 2013).

Image © 2013 Google Earth.

Though the restaurant boat was completed at the December 7 Factory, it is unclear where the hull was manufactured. It does not appear in any publicly available satellite imagery of North Korea’s shipyards, so it is possible it was imported and then refurbished for its current use.

Since completion, the Taedonggang restaurant boat has been moored in a spot north of Kim Il Sung Square at the former location of Restaurant Boat No. 1. Judging from official accounts and those of visitors, the Taedonggang restaurant boat contains numerous restaurants and bars (some serving western liquor), which are open to locals and tourists alike.

Historical imagery of the December 7 Factory shows that it has also performed maintenance or refurbishment for several other vessels, including the pleasure boats at the Hungbu Guest House (a former Kim Il Sung residence that is now a Ministry of Foreign Affairs guest house). These boats are probably the ones taken by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Kim Il Sung to the West Sea Barrage in 1994.[3]

Figure 5. (Left) A tourist photo of the Hungbu Guest House riverboats. (Center) The riverboats docked at the Hungbu Guest House (October 5, 2013). (Right) The riverboats docked at the December 7 Factory (March 14, 2011).

Images: (left) Michael Bassett; (center) ©2013 Google Earth; (right) ©2011 Google Earth.

Military Activities

Since the 1980s, the December 7 Factory has been involved in, among other things, the production of specialized naval vessels for the Korean People’s Navy (KPN) and the nation’s intelligence services. Specifics of the factory’s production activities prior to 2000 are unknown, however, since that time, it has been involved in the production, maintenance or modification of:

  • Small experimental craft;
  • Yeon-o Class midget submarines (SSm); and
  • Two classes of stealth patrol craft (PCF).

Immediately following Kim Jong Un’s March 24, 2013 guidance visit to the Taedonggang restaurant boat, North Korean media reported that Kim Jong Un “inspected KPA  [Korean People’s Army] Unit 1501.”[4] He had previously inspected KPA Unit 1501 on May 23, 2012, but no images were released.[5] The editing of the television footage from March trip, however, implied (though not definitively) that “KPA Unit 1501” is the entity responsible for completing the construction of the Taedonggang restaurant boat—indicating that the December 7 Factory and KPA Unit 1501 are located in the same place. At KPA Unit 1501, Kim Jong Un was shown to be inspecting playground equipment as well as other military equipment presumably manufactured on the premises.

Figure 6. (Left) Image of playground equipment constructed by KPA Unit 1501 taken during Kim Jong Un’s March 2013 visit.[6] (Right) Unknown military equipment constructed by KPA Unit 1501.[7]

Images (left) KCTV; (right) Rodong Sinmun.

Nearly six months later, on October 11, 2013, KCNA reported that Kim Jong Un “…looked around newly built warships and guided their maneuvers.”[8] Television footage and imagery from this guidance visit shows the interior of a facility as well as images of sections of “newly-built warships.”

When comparing the television footage and imagery from both the March and October 2013 events, it is clear that they are of the same facility run by KPA Unit 1501. For example, the following two images are of the same room.

Figure 7. Images of the same location: (left) Kim Jong Un’s visit to KPA Unit 1501 on March 24, 2013 (walking past the bow of a new stealth patrol vessel); and (right) Kim’s visit to the “naval maneuvers facility” on October 11, 2013.

Images: KCTV.

Additionally, imagery from both events shows strong similarities with the external features of the December 7 Factory as seen on satellite imagery—most notably the shape of the roof, rail-mounted marine transfer table, transfer cradle and launching way.

Figure 8. Major components of the shipbuilding facilities at the December 7 Factory (October 13, 2012).

Image © 2012 Google Earth.

Most interesting from these visits are the images of drawings that, although blurry, show the extreme wedge shaped design and the first ground views of a new class of stealth patrol boats (PCF) being built for the KPN.

Figure 9. Drawings of the KPN’s new stealth patrol boat presented to Kim Jong Un during his visit to the “naval maneuvers facility” on October 11, 2013. (In the left hand image, a new stealth patrol vessel can be seen sitting on its transfer cradle.)

Images: KCTV.

As part of a broader naval shipbuilding program, construction of this new class of stealth PCF began sometime during the mid-2000s. To date, two different classes have been observed at the December 7 Factory on commercial satellite imagery.

The first is of a 23-meter vessel and the second is a larger 30-meter vessel. Both vessels are of an extreme wedge shape, with sharply multi-faceted superstructures and forward extended hulls below the waterline (somewhat similar in concept to the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), albeit much smaller). To date, these vessels have been observed on commercial imagery at least five times.

Figure 10. 23-meter and 30-meter Stealth Patrol Boats (PCF) moored at the December 7 Factory (October 5, 2013).

Image © 2013 Google Earth.

While the resolution of commercial satellite imagery is not sufficient to identify the weaponry carried onboard these vessels, the ground imagery has provided some initial information. Ground imagery shows two 24-round 107 mm MRLs (based upon the Type-63 MRL) mounted on either side of the stern and a third mounted above the rear of the superstructure, in front of the mast. Situated between the two stern launchers is what appears to be a local copy of the Russian “Djigit” dual-mount for SA-16/18 surface-to-air missiles.

Figure 11. Kim Jong Un and officials depicted on stealth vessels: (left) Kim Jong Un examining a local copy of the Russian “Djigit” SA-16/18 mount. Behind him are two 24-round 107 mm MRLs; (right) Kim Jong Un inside one of the stealth patrol boats during his March 24, 2013 visit.

Images: KCTV

Should these vessels become operational within the KPN, rather than being just an experimental design, they would represent a new capability not previously seen within the service.

Summary

The December 7 Factory under KPA Unit 1501 has developed a range of civilian product lines to help subsidize its costly military operations. It is an interesting case study which gives us insight into the DPRK’s naval research priorities as well as the innovative ways this research is being financed. In a broader sense, however, the factory demonstrates the ways in which the KPA resources have become integral to production in the DPRK’s civilian economy, a domain formerly dominated by the party and state bureaucracies. This style of industrial organization raises questions of the extent to which the KPA command can be managed through the government’s traditional control mechanisms and budget outlays and implies that the KPA leadership will need to be closely involved in future economic policy decisions.


[1] “Kim Jong Il Inspects Light Industrial Factories and Department Store,” KCNA, December 10, 2010, http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2010/201012/news10/20101210-14ee.html.

[2] “Kim Jong Un Visits Restaurant Boat on Stocks,” KCNA, March 24, 2013, http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2013/201303/news24/20130324-22ee.html.

[3] See video of that boat trip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fzj95RS_axk.

[4] “Kim Jong Un Inspects KPA Unit 1501,” KCNA, March 24, 2013, http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2013/201303/news24/20130324-23ee.html.

[5] “Kim Jong Un Inspects KPA Unit 1501,” KCNA, May 23, 2012, http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2012/201205/news23/20120523-36ee.html.

[6] Playground equipment featured on KCTV evening news on March 25, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jdro-jg5Y0.

[7] The right hand figure was originally published by Rodong Sinmun, but after the purge of Jang Song Thaek, was purged from the site. Thanks to Michael Madden for having archived the image on North Korea Leadership Watch.

[8] “Kim Jong Un Guides Maneuvers of Newly Built Warships,” KCNA, October 11, 2013, http://kcna.co.jp/item/2013/201310/news11/20131011-30ee.html.

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