Commercial satellite imagery of the Sinpho South Shipyard on October 20, 2021 suggests that the GORAE-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA), also referred to as the SINPO-class SSBA, was probably the vessel used in the October 19 at-sea ballistic missile test, which reportedly originated off the east coast of North Korea near Sinpho.
The SINPO-class SSBA has been based at the Sinpho South Shipyard since it was constructed to serve as a test bed for future North Korean ballistic missile tests. The vessel is normally berthed in the secure boat basin under an awning designed to provide some protection from the elements, but also to conceal the submarine from satellite detection. Since the awning’s construction in late summer 2019, only occasional glimpses of the submarine have been observed. A submersible missile test barge is also berthed within the basin but not positioned under the cover, making its presence easier to monitor.
In the past, missile test preparations involving the SINPO-class SSBA have included the presence of a large, light-toned crane positioned near the vessel. The crane is used to load a test missile into the launch tube located in the sail of the submarine.
The submarine can be viewed through the semi-transparent awning, further noted in analysis by CSIS of another satellite image captured on the same day. Additionally, a long, light-toned object similar in size to the mobile crane previously seen alongside the SINPO-class SSBA during test preparations can be discerned against the shadow cast by the protective awning. It is also possible that the light-colored object could be a missile canister. If confirmed to be a crane or missile canister, its presence is a strong indicator that a missile loading event has occurred, suggesting the submarine was indeed the platform used for the test.
The submersible test barge is also present, berthed at the quay just north of the awning. No activity was observed around the barge.
Figure 1. Overview of the secure boat basin.
“Academy of Defence Science Succeeds in Test-Launch of New Style SLBM,” KCNA, October 20, 2021.