The Dual-Use Wonsan-Kalma Airfield and A New Seaside Facility

Recent commercial satellite imagery indicate that air operations at the dual-use Wonsan-Kalma Airfield coincided with a reported combined air and ground-to-sea live-fire exercise conducted on the eve of the “Day of the Sun.” In addition, the construction on a new, secure seaside facility located immediately south of the beach resort and whose purpose is unknown is moving at a rapid pace.

Exercise Support Observed at the Wonsan-Kalma Airfield

Reports indicate North Korea conducted a combined air and ground-to-sea live-fire exercise in the vicinity of Munchon and Wonsan on April 14. It was the first time such a display has been seen in this area since 2017.[1]

Imagery of the Wonsan-Kalma Airfield, taken one day before and one day after the April 14 exercise, revealed little regarding the reported event. Reports indicated that a mix of Sukhoi-variant and MiG aircraft participated in the exercise, but no Sukhoi aircraft had appeared at the airfield. There were, however, indications of flight operations involving MiG-15s. Specifically, five MiG-15s were brought to the airfield between March 30 and April 13 and staged at the southwest parking aprons adjacent to the tunnel aircraft storage facilities. This was in addition to the MiG-21s and MiG-15s routinely observed parked in this area in open storage. In addition, approximately eight possible aircraft tow tractors were lined up on at the southernmost apron.

On imagery from April 15, the five MiG-15s were no longer observed, but the eight possible tow tractors were located on the northern of the two aprons, suggesting the MiG-15s had either departed the airfield, or more likely, were moved inside the tunnels.

While it is possible that launchers had arrived at the beach, fired their projectiles and returned to their bases between the two imagery dates, there was no discernable trace of live-fire activity. A more likely scenario is that the ground fire was conducted from the beaches on the Hodo-ri peninsula, which is located on the north side of the Wonsan-Munchon bay. Unfortunately, that area is infrequently imaged and no coverage from that period is available.

Figure 1. Aircraft staged at parking aprons before and after the exercise.

Figure 1A. Aircraft staged at parking aprons before the exercise, March 20, 2020. Image © 2020 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-nc-sa 4.0.
Figure 1B. Aircraft staged at parking aprons before the exercise, April 13, 2020. Image © 2020 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-nc-sa 4.0.
Figure 1C. Aircraft staged at parking aprons after the exercise, April 15, 2020. Image Pleiades © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]il.com.

Construction of a New Facility

Imagery of the adjacent beach areas immediately south of the Wonsan Beach Resort also revealed construction activity on an unidentified, separately-secured facility. Just south of that construction site is a large, open beach area with numerous vehicle tracks and a probable revetment observed, suggesting it might be a maneuver area.

Construction on the new, secured facility was first visible in imagery from December 4, 2019. Subsequent coverage indicates that construction is progressing at a rapid pace. The facility’s near proximity to the sea seems unusual, as it doesn’t appear to be a resort compound or represent a function which would dictate its location by the water. A perimeter wall encloses the facility, suggesting a degree of security is sought. Buildings under construction include a large main building in a modified “H” configuration, four medium-sized, rectangular buildings, and several small buildings. In addition, materials, which will probably be used for the construction of a seawall, are aligned on the east side of the facility. The paving of the facility access road, branching off the resort’s main beachside road, is also in progress.

The purpose or function of this facility is not yet understood. However, given the level of security being put into place, it merits further monitoring.

Figure 2. New secure facility under construction.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 3. Close-up of secure facility construction work.

Figure 3A. Close-up of secure facility construction work, December 4, 2019. Image © 2020 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-nc-sa 4.0.
Figure 3B. Close-up of secure facility construction work, March 16, 2020. Image © 2020 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-nc-sa 4.0.
Figure 3C. Close-up of secure facility construction work, March 30, 2020. Image © 2020 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-nc-sa 4.0.
Figure 3D. Close-up of secure facility construction work, April 15, 2020. Image Pleiades © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 4. Beach area south of construction.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

  1. [1]

    In April 2017, KCNA reported the exercise as the “largest ever live-fire military drill,” commemorating the 85th foundation anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), including ground artillery and both air and sea forces. In mid-November 2019, a large Air Force and Anti-Air Force Combat exercise was conducted under the direction of the Kim Jong Un. While the show of airpower was significant, there was no accompanying ground component observed on the Kalma peninsula.


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