North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Submarine: Probable Post-Missile Test Maintenance; Construction Hall Externally Complete
Recent commercial satellite imagery, acquired five days after the July 9 launch of the second KN-11 this year, shows post-test activity and provides a status update of the Sinpo South Shipyard, the homeport of North Korea’s GORAE-class ballistic missile submarine program.
- The GORAE-class submarine is berthed at its normal location in the secure boat basin. Probable post-test maintenance activity is being undertaken on the submarine with a heavy-lift crane and what appears to be a small truck or shipping container present dockside.
- The submersible test stand barge remains moored at the same location as identified on imagery from May 8, 2016. However, the support vessel that normally attends to it and the GORAE-class submarine is no longer present.
- After months of construction work on the launching way and construction hall, 360 meters south of the secure boat basin, both are externally complete. The status of work inside the hall remains unclear.
Probable Post-Test Submarine Maintenance
After the July 9 launching of a KN-11 SLBM, the GORAE-class submarine returned to its home port at the Sinpo South Shipyard. Commercial satellite imagery from July 14 shows that following previous practices netting has been suspended over the decks of the submarine to mask activity. It also appears that the submarine is undergoing post-test maintenance activity as a heavy-lift crane and a small truck or shipping container are present dockside, but the resolution of the imagery is insufficient to provide further details.
Figure 1. Probable post-test activity at the secure boat basin.
The submersible test stand barge remains at the same location as on May 8.However, the support vessel that normally attends to the barge and the GORAE-class submarine is not present. Additionally, what may be a shipping container or stack of covered supplies or equipment (approximately 7.5 meters by 2.75 meters) is present dockside of the test stand barge.
Also in the secure boat basin are two approximately 30 meters long, mother ships, 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.
Submarine Construction Hall Externally Complete
Work on the launching way (i.e., ramp) and construction hall, 360 meters south of the secure boat basin, is now externally complete. The status of work inside the hall remains unclear, but when it is finished North Korea will be able to build and launch new submarines much larger than the existing GORAE-class—including a new class of ballistic missile submarines. Moored alongside the launching way are three small vessels and a barge working to clear underwater obstacles.
Figure 2. Construction work on launching way and construction hall externally complete.
 On July 9, 2016 around 11:30 AM Pyongyang Standard Time, North Korea conducted its second test launch of a Bukkeukseong-1 (Polaris-1, KN-11) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in 2016. The test was conducted off the port city of Sinpo, home port for the nation’s sole GORAE-class experimental ballistic missile submarine. The test was deemed a failure by South Korean and US defense sources as it exploded “at an altitude of some 10 kilometers and a distance of merely a few kilometers…” after the missile was launched. These same reports also indicate that North Korea has achieved progress with the initial submerged ejection stage of the SLBM technology and is currently in the KN-11 flight test stage. See “N.Korea Fires Missile from Submarine,” Chosun Ilbo, July 11, 2016, http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2016/07/11/2016071101072.html; “Seoul Says N. Korea Test-Fires Submarine-Launched Missile,” Associated Press, July 8, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/07/08/world/asia/ap-as-koreas-tension-.html; and Park, Jun-min. “North Korea missile fired from submarine appears to have failed,” Reuters, July 9, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missile-idUSKCN0ZP02U.