Camouflage Netting Spotted on North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Submarine

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.

Recent commercial satellite imagery from May 8 of the Sinpo South Shipyard supports previous reports that North Korea is continuing to actively pursue development of both a ballistic missile submarine and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). Camouflage netting, intended to conceal ongoing activity and first seen in January 2016, is again present on the deck of the submarine. The submersible test stand barge has been moved from its position along the northern secondary dock back to the main dock and a support vessel is now tied up alongside. A large shipping container is positioned dockside. Whether this was a shipping container for the Bukkeukseong-1 SLBM is unclear.

Camouflage Netting on GORAE-Class Submarine

Commercial satellite imagery from May 8, 2016, shows netting has once again been suspended over the deck of the submarine. This netting was first seen in imagery of December 26, 2015 and on several occasions since. The purpose of this netting is to conceal ongoing activity. Netting for concealment purposes has also been observed at other submarine bases during the past five years.

A shipping container observed dockside of the submarine in an image from April 28 is no longer present. Whether this container was for the Bukkeukseong-1 SLBM is unclear.

Figure 1. Camouflage covering the GORAE-class submarine.

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Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

Test Stand Barge Moved and Shipping Container Spotted Nearby

The submersible test stand barge, used previously to conduct SLBM tests, has been moved from its position along the northern secondary dock back to the main dock. Similarly, a support vessel—believed to have been used to both tow the submersible test stand barge and support the submarine during tests—is now tied up alongside the barge, suggesting that work is being undertaken to repair or modify the barge. Additionally, a large shipping container similar to the one previously present near the submarine (approximately 9.5 meters by 1.5 meters) is present adjacent to the barge.

Figure 2. Test stand barge in main dock, with shipping container nearby.

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Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

Also present in the secure boat basin are two “mother ships”—one 32-meters-long and the other 40-meters-long. These are specialized craft used to transport intelligence agents and special operations troops on infiltration missions against South Korea and Japan. They are maintained by the facilities at the Sinpo South Shipyard.

Figure 3. Two “mother ships” present.

Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

No New Developments at Other Key Areas

As noted in the previous 38 North analysis, construction of the expanded way (i.e., ramp) in front of the construction halls continues and is in its final stages. When this and the internal construction of the halls are complete, the North will be able to build and launch new submarines much larger than the GORAE-class, including a new class of ballistic missile submarines.

Figure 4. Construction continues on an expanded way.

Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

At the test stand used in the past by the SLBM and ballistic missile submarine development programs for launch tube and pop-up testing, little has changed. The removable tower used to support the test remains in place and a small vehicle or container is present on the test stand pad.

Also visible in the May 8 image is the entrance to an underground facility 100-meters south of the test stand, first associated with test stand activity in November 2012.

Figure 5. Little change at the test stand.

Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
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