A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.
Commercial satellite imagery of the Sinpo South Shipyard from April 29 indicates new activity at the facility’s missile test stand. This test stand was used during 2014-2016 for launch systems verification, and pop-up and prototype testing of the Pukguksong-1 (KN-11) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Visible are a heavy-lift crane with its stabilizer legs deployed and boom extended out over the test stand’s service tower, and a 13-meter-long flatbed truck adjacent to it on the access road. The image, however, is of insufficient resolution to reach a determination as to whether the activity is related to maintenance, removal of the service tower or preparations for an upcoming test. Up until September 2015 the service tower was routinely disassembled and removed after conducting tests. Since that time, it has remained in place.
Figure 1. A heavy-lift crane and flatbed truck are seen at the test stand at Sinpo.
This activity comes in the wake of the February test launch of a Pukguksong-2 (the land-based version of the Pukguksong-1 SLBM), two tests of the KN-17 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) on April 5 and 16, the April acquisition of a second submersible test stand barge, and other recent ballistic missile activities. In conjunction with these developments, the recent activity at the Sinpo test stand likely has a number of implications for the future of the SLBM program and suggests that North Korea is planning to accelerate the program or develop new designs to complement its land-based ballistic missiles.
Elsewhere at the Sinpo South Shipyard
The GORAE-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) has been berthed at the same secure boat basin for at least a year. An unidentified object is positioned on the deck immediately near the conning tower. While this may be supplies or equipment, it has been present since August 2016, which would be unusual unless the boat is undergoing prolonged maintenance. A pennant number, likely applied sometime after September 2016, is visible on the left side of the conning tower. The submersible test stand barge has remained berthed forward of the submarine at the same location for the past six months.
Figure 2. The GORAE-class ballistic missile submarine and submersible test barge remain in the secure boat basin.
Within the shipyard, construction of a new building that was begun in late-2016 continues to make slow progress. No other changes of significance are noted among the machine shops, construction halls or parts storage yards.
Figure 3. Construction of a new building at the shipyard continues slowly.
Construction of what appears to be a new construction hall on the southern tip of the Sinpo peninsula, which began in 2012, also continues at a slow pace. The new hall is now approximately 225-meters-long and its associated L-shaped pier is now 200-meters-long. Both structures remain incomplete. The location and construction characteristics of the hall suggest that when it is completed it may be covered with earth to protect it from possible attack. Caissons, used to extend the pier, are visible both on the pier itself and at nearby docks.
Figure 4. Construction of a new construction hall continues.
Figure 5. Construction of a new L-shaped pier continues.