Upgraded Security at North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station

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

Summary

Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea has upgraded security measures for the Sohae Satellite Launching Station and surrounding area. While the upgrades are likely tied to the master construction plan, they may also indicate that the launch facility could soon be occupied by NADA and KPA scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel. Upgraded security may also reflect a growing North Korean concern of intelligence collection by foreign governments using defectors from the area or outside agents to infiltrate and collect information.

Upgraded Security Perimeters

As part of the initial phases of construction at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in 2000, a guard position and entrance were established at the point where the main access road entered the valley in which the launch facility was being built, thereby separating it from the nearby villages (the largest of which was Tongchang-ri). By December 2004, a second guard position and entrance were built about 2.6 kilometers to the northeast of the first. Both these guard and entrance positions had short fences on either side of the road.

Figure 1. The inner and outer security perimeters of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Initially, these two positions served as anchors for inner and outer security perimeters that consisted of simple footpaths on top of the surrounding hills for security troops to patrol along. Subsequently, these patrol paths were expanded and connected so that by 2009, they formed both a basic outer security perimeter encompassing a dozen villages, the largest of which was Tongchang-ri, and an inner security perimeter that encompassed the Sohae launch facility proper.

Beginning around 2011, improvements to the outer perimeter began and proceeded slowly, converting the basic perimeter into a more capable security perimeter by widening existing patrol paths, erecting fences and adjusting the perimeter alignment. In May 2015, construction began on a new guard position and entrance on the outer perimeter northeast of Tongchang-ri. By December, this was complete and the old position razed. Along the inner security perimeter, the existing patrol paths were widened and fences were erected.

Today, the outer security perimeter is 27 kilometers long, encompassing 28 square kilometers and 12 villages. The inner security perimeter is 19 kilometers long, encompassing 15 square kilometers and the Sohae launch facility proper. Where these perimeters touched the coast, they were connected to preexisting coastal defense patrol roads.

Figure 2. Upgrades to outer security perimeter.

Before image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. After image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 3. Upgrades to inner security perimeter.

Before image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. After image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Housing Projects within Outer Perimeter

In 2014, construction of two housing projects within the outer perimeter took place. The first was 19-unit development, 800 meters north of the inner entrance. The second was a 16-unit housing development for workers at the livestock farm 1.5 kilometers to the northeast. There is no hard information on who lives within this outer perimeter, however, some analysts believe that the population consists mainly of the original farming and fishing communities, supplemented by construction workers, KPA and other security troops.

Figure 4. Housing area within the outer perimeter built in 2014.

Before image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. After image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 5. Housing area for livestock facility within the outer perimeter built in 2014.

Before image © Google Earth. After image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Why Upgrade Security?

While the upgraded security measures are likely tied to the master construction plan for the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, they may also indicate that the launch facility could soon be occupied by NADA and KPA scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel. Upgraded security measures may also reflect a growing North Korean concern of intelligence collection by foreign governments using defectors from the area or outside agents to infiltrate and collect information.

Stay informed about our latest
news, publications, & uploads: