While recent activity at the Sohae Launch facility appears to have returned it to operational status after DPRK dismantlement measures earlier in the summer, there has been no activity of significance at the vertical engine test stand or launch pad since early March.
Commercial satellite imagery acquired on both March 6 and March 8, 2019, shows that North Korea has continued preparations on the launch pad and the vertical engine test stand at the Sohae Launch Facility. Based on past practices, these activities could be consistent with preparations for the delivery of a rocket to the launch pad or engine to the test stand; or, they could be North Korean coercive bargaining tactics after the failed Hanoi summit.
Commercial satellite imagery acquired March 6, 2019—four days after the previous image—shows that North Korea has essentially completed the rebuilding of both the rail-mounted transfer transfer/processing structure on the launch pad and the vertical engine at the Sohae Launch Facility.
Commercial satellite imagery acquired on March 2, 2019, shows that North Korea is pursuing a rapid rebuilding of Sohae (Tongchang-ri) Launch Facility at both the vertical engine test stand and the launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure.
Prior to the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, Beyond Parallel undertook a brief satellite imagery survey of other major North Korean WMD facilities to determine if there were any new developments.
Located 250 kilometers north of the DMZ, Sangnam-ni missile operating base is an operational missile base that houses a battalion- or regiment-sized unit equipped with Hwasong-10 (Musudan) intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM). Multiple flight failures of the Musudan missile in 2016 could have also led the KPA Strategic Force to abandon the system and replace it with the more successful Hwasong-12 IRBM.
As of January 20, 2019, commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launch Facility (Tongchang-ri) shows that no new dismantling activity has occurred at the vertical test engine stand or the rail-mounted processing building since August 2018.
Located 212 kilometers north of the DMZ, Sino-ri is an operational missile base that houses a regiment-sized unit equipped with Nodong-1/-2 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM). It is one of the oldest of approximately 20 undeclared missile operating bases and is reported to serve as the headquarters of the Strategic Rocket Forces Nodong missile brigade. It may have also played a role in development of the newest generation Pukkuksong-2 (KN-15) ballistic missile first tested or unveiled by North Korea on February 12, 2017.
Should inter-Korean cooperation result in the re-connection of the railways in North and South Korea, the rail networks of the Korean peninsula could then be integrated into a rail network spanning the Eurasian continent through China and Russia. If actualized, this would mark a significant diplomatic and geopolitical accomplishment for the Korean peninsula. Nonetheless, a long and significant modernization process will need to take place to fully integrate the systems in a commercially viable way.
North and South Korea are moving forward with inter-Korean railway cooperation as a key engine for advancing inter-Korean reconciliation and building the infrastructure for eventual unification. Once connected, however, a significant modernization and harmonization process will need to take place to fully integrate the systems in a commercially viable way.
Sakkanmol is an undeclared North Korean operational missile base for short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and is one of approximately 20 undeclared missile sites and one of the closest to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and Seoul, giving it the shortest flight time. Sakkanmol currently houses a unit equipped with SRBMs but could easily accommodate more capable medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs).
New research undertaken by Beyond Parallel has located 13 of an estimated 20 North Korean missile operating bases that are undeclared by the government. These missile operating bases, which can be used for all classes of ballistic missile from short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) up to and including intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), would presumably have to be subject to declaration, verification, and dismantlement in any final and fully verifiable denuclearization deal.
Enforcement of international sanctions on North Korean seafood should be expected, therefore, to have an impact on both North Korea’s baseline fisheries earnings and the expected future return on the regime’s investment of resources and strategic effort in this modernization project.
North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program is nearly six decades old. While archival documents have previously provided some evidence of North Korea’s intent to build weapons of mass destruction at an early stage in the Cold War, newly declassified satellite imagery from the Central Intelligence Agency gives us a more precise picture of how and exactly when North Korea started developing the fundamental components of its nuclear weapons program.
Commercial satellite imagery shows that the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex is currently active and appears to be well maintained by North Korean standards. In addition to its production and repair responsibilities, the complex serves as a center for North Korean railroad technical research and development.
Chongjin Railway Factory is one of three major railway manufacturing facilities in North Korea's eastern corridor. Analysis of this facility can be a brick-and-mortar sign-post of foundational infrastructure progress if the trust-building project of reconnecting the Koreas' railways is carried out.
Newly acquired satellite imagery from May 19, 2018 shows that preparations for the shutdown of the North Korean nuclear test site at Punggye-ri appear to be underway, and that a number of facilities have been shuttered.
The exact origins of North Korea’s nuclear program are still shrouded in mystery despite being the object of study for over twenty-five years. Contrary to common perception, early satellite imagery from the Central Intelligence Agency, taken on December 15, 1962 and June 27, 1963, shows that construction on the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center in North Korea started sometime after June 27, 1963 and before July 16, 1964.
On Saturday April 21, commercial satellite imagery from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station indicates minimal to no activity ahead of the inter-Korean summit. While dwindled ground activity could be attributed to the fact that images were taken during a weekend, the absence of any parked vehicular traffic and human activity suggests compliance with the leadership’s declaration, coming out of the Third Plenary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party.
Despite being the subject of intense study for almost 60 years there is remarkably little independently verifiable information concerning the development of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure available at the unclassified level. This series of reports entitled "Yongbyon Declassified," tries to rectify that by examining high-resolution satellite imagery acquired by early U.S. reconnaissance programs.
North Korean special forces are a critical component of the Korean People's Army. Within the Korean People's Army Naval Force, unique sniper brigades exist to carry out specialized missions focused on sabotage and subversion of command and control facilities, reconnaissance, infiltration, and amphibious landings and assaults. As part of a four-part series, this final report provides more details about the development, organization, deployment, and training of North Korean hovercraft units which form part of the KPN sniper brigades.
Key among North Korea’s military capabilities are its special operations forces. Embedded within North Korea's special operations forces are two unique navy “sniper” brigades that are subordinate to the Korean People’s Navy. Hovercraft units that operate as part of these brigades have been trained to carry out a more specialized task—amphibious assault landings and infiltration missions.
Satellite imagery analysis shows that North Korea continues to develop its conventional military forces in targeted areas. Construction on a new hovercraft base near Yonbong-ni could indicate a significant escalation of the navy sniper brigade threat to the ROK islands in the West Sea and ports along the coast.
North Korea has one of the largest special operations forces (SOF) in the world with specially trained, elite soldiers numbering close to 200,000. Among these unique special operations forces today are two navy “sniper” brigades. North Korean hovercraft units—a key element in supporting navy sniper brigades' offensive operations—have evolved and become more threatening over time as a result of restructuring, modernization and construction of new bases closer to the Northern Limit Line.
In July and September 2017, unconfirmed reports circulated about dramatically fluctuating gasoline and diesel prices in North Korea. There were also reports that China was planning to suspend or limit fuel exports to North Korea. Analysis of satellite imagery from around this period indicates that a fuel suspension of any significant length does not appear to have affected Pyongyang.
On November 24, 2017, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters that the Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge will be closed temporarily in the “near future” for repairs. A detailed analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from November 24th shows no activity on the bridge—repair or otherwise.
In October, it was reported that North Korea was secretly operating factories inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex without notifying the South Korean government. Satellite imagery shows that while there may be some token industrial activity occurring, the complex is not operational in any real sense of the term.
Between August 29 and September 1, 2016, Typhoon Lionrock poured a foot of rain onto parts of North Korea causing widespread flooding, the most severe being near the Tumen River.
Heavy rains triggered by Typhoon Lionrock hit the northern part of North Korea in late August. Extensive damage to infrastructure and agricultural fields occurred as a result. Examining satellite imagery is helpful in assessing the extent of flood damage.
Dandong, China, remains the epicenter of cross-border economic transactions between China and North Korea, where regular boat, railway, and road traffic is witnessed.