December 2019 Update: Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and While speculation (sometimes wild) continues to grow concerning a North Korean end-of-year “surprise,” Beyond Parallel is continuing its recent series of surveys of the North’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facilities to determine if there are any new developments. It is our desire to provide objective and factual information to enable decision-makers, policymakers and the general public to better understand the important aspects of the threat posed by North Korea and provide assistance to all in arriving at calm and informed decisions. Our recent surveys include the Sinpo South Shipyard, Sohae Satellite Launching Station, Nampo Submersible Test Stand Barge and Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Stand.

December 2019 Update: The Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and The Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility is located a few kilometers west of the Hamhung-Hungnam area and along the east coast of North Korea. December 6 imagery shows minor activity at the facility, including the presence of a small truck and some crates. Although no recent test appears to have taken place (i.e., absence of scarring in the exhaust deflector and healthy surrounding vegetation), the facility appears to be well-maintained and ready for solid rocket motor testing at any time. A successful test of solid fuel propellant engine, particularly at the east test stand, would denote another major advancement in survivable nuclear weapons capability, and would presumably also be designed to put additional pressure on the U.S. to make concessions in negotiations.

Sohae Engine Test Part of Coercive Diplomacy Tactic as End-of-Year Deadline Approaches

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and On December 7, North Korea conducted what it described as a “…very important test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground.” Satellite imagery in the days leading up to and after the test clearly shows that this was a rocket engine test at the vertical engine test stand at Sohae. This test was most probably of a liquid-fuel rocket engine as only liquid-fuel rocket engines have previously been tested here, while large solid rocket motors have been tested at the Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility on the east coast and elsewhere. Whether the liquid-fuel rocket engine was an existing model or a new one is unknown.

December 2019 Sinpo Update: No Significant Developments

, by and There is no evidence that the “newly built submarine” inspected by Kim Jong-un on July 23, 2019 has been launched. While many media sources have described this new submarine as an imminent threat, it is more accurate to describe it as an emerging threat. The large canopy constructed during late-August and early-September that conceals much of the submarine dock precludes confirmation that the existing SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) is present.

U.S.-South Korea Cost-Sharing Negotiations Impacting Korean Public Support for U.S. Security Umbrella

Analysis, Military
, by , and Predata signals suggest a significant perception gap emerging between the U.S. and South Korea. First, South Koreans are more focused on the financial burden of the U.S. military presence than on the positive security benefits it provides. Second, U.S. demands for $5 billion in cost-sharing are generating the highest ever levels of social media and video commentary critical of U.S. forces in Korea.

The 66-Year Alliance Between the U.S. and South Korea is in Deep Trouble

, by and The 66-year alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea is in deep trouble. The U.S.-China trade war, the South Korean government’s quiet leaning toward Beijing and President Trump’s transactional view of alliances have created a unique constellation of forces. The result could be a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula at a time when North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s regional dominance grow unabated.

Yongbyon Update: November Movement of Radioactive Material?

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by , and Recent satellite imagery from November 2019 shows the presence of four specialized railcars that have been associated with the movement of radioactive material in the past. The last observed movement of these railcars by Beyond Parallel was in April 2019. It is unclear whether the railcars are being used for the outbound shipment of irradiated liquid or solid waste, disassembled but contaminated equipment or the movement of fissile material to facilities outside the Yongbyon area. A less likely alternative is the inbound shipment of radioactive material from a facility outside the Yongbyon area.

Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Imagery Supports ROK and U.S. Government Reservations about Permanent Disablement

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and Analysis of satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility acquired during 2019 and more specifically on September 23rd and October 9th, 2019 shows the facility in caretaker status, likely being maintained by security personnel. While there is no evidence of current efforts to restore any of the nuclear test portals, several observations lead us to believe the facility has not been permanently disabled and that the detonations in May 2018 are not necessarily irreversible.