Commercial satellite imagery indicates that after two years of construction, one of North Korea’s largest military airfields appears close to completion.
The Sunchon Airfield is home to North Korea’s most modern military jet aircraft and, when it reopens, will be one of the most modern airfields in the county. These factors and its proximity to Pyongyang suggest it will play an important part in North Korea’s air defenses.
The Sunchon Airfield is located approximately 45 kilometers northeast of Pyongyang and closed for renovations in the spring of 2021.
Prior to that, Sunchon was home to the 55th Fighter Air Wing and housed North Korea’s most advanced fighters, including the country’s 31 Su-25 and 12 MiG-19 aircraft. These aircraft were redeployed to the Pukchang and Kaechon Airfields during this renovation period.
One of its notable features is a large underground structure to the north of the field. This is likely for aircraft storage and protection and connects to the airfield by taxiways.
Construction began in April 2021, and by August 2022, the main runway had been extended by 300 meters to a total of 2,800 meters, making it capable of handling the largest of North Korea’s military aircraft. Additionally, the taxiways were also repaved and enlarged between April 2021 and November 2022 to accommodate the larger military planes.
Two new aircraft parking aprons were added, one at the northern end of the airfield and one in the center, and the existing apron on the southern end was enlarged and repaved.
Figure 1. Overview of Sunchon Airfield on imagery from June 23, 2019 and March 21, 2023.
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Imagery from March 21 shows that 16 new aircraft shelters have been constructed on the large central parking apron. Framing for the shelters was in place in May 2022 but then sat untouched until the beginning of March 2023, when roofing work commenced. The roofs on all 16 shelters were complete as of March 20.
The shelters are similar to those at the Wonsan-Kalma International Airport (previously the Wonsan Airbase) on the country’s east coast and provide protection for aircraft from the weather and shield the aircraft from overhead imagery collection.
Figure 2. New aircraft shelters at Sunchon Airfield visible on imagery from March 21, 2023.
Taxiway markings indicate uncovered parking positions for an additional nine aircraft on the central apron and 15 positions on the northern apron.
To the southeast of the central apron, there are four hardened aircraft hangars. These were present before the construction.
New landing markers and taxiing routes have been painted on the main runway and taxiways over the last few months. In a previous report, we noted ground clearance beyond the threshold of runway 33. The March 21 imagery indicates this was for the installation of runway approach lighting. Similar lighting has not been installed for runway 15.
In late 2021, construction began on a new control tower at the southeast corner of the airfield. The new tower is circular in shape and adjacent to a building that appears to serve as a general administration building.
Figure 3. Administration building and new control tower at Sunchon Airfield.