Imagery

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Kim Zeroes in on Fertilizer Production: The Latest Activity at the Hungnam Liquid Nutrient Fertilizer Factory

The latest undertaking at the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex, one of North Korea’s oldest and largest chemical complexes, is the construction of a small “liquid nutrient fertilizer factory.” The construction and future operation of this new liquid nutrient fertilizer factory is a further manifestation of the continuing efforts under Kim Jong-un to increase agricultural production by expanding and diversifying domestic fertilizer production capabilities.

Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant (Nam-chon Chemical Complex)

The Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant (38.318369 N, 126.432360 E) is located in Pyongsan-gun (평산군, Pyongsan County), Hwangbuk-do (황북, North Hwanghae Province), approximately 45 kilometers from the DMZ and 96 kilometers northwest of Seoul—the capital of South Korea. Since approximately 1990 it has occupied an critical role in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (North Korea) nuclear research and weapons programs as the sole known provider of uranium oxide (yellowcake) to these programs for fuel fabrication or enrichment.

Sil-li Ballistic Missile Support Facility

In a joint baseline analysis with Jane’s Intelligence Review, the Center for Strategic and International Studies surveys a previously undisclosed facility near Pyongyang International Airport in North Korea that is likely related to its expanding ballistic missile development program.

Making Solid Tracks: North Korea-China Railroad Crossing at Manpo-Jian

Photo credit: Matt Acevedo's Flickr photo stream. Railroad Near Krome at Sunrise. https://www.flickr.com/photos/130441601@N08/16428347166/in/photostream/
Widely considered as a midterm referendum on President Moon, the April electoral victory will breathe new life into his administration’s heretofore stalled diplomatic efforts with North Korea, a key pillar of which is inter-Korean railway cooperation. In the context of South Korea's renewed efforts in inter-Korean railway cooperation, Beyond Parallel reviews the railway connections of the Korean peninsula.

Yongbyon Declassified Part VII: Final Stretch of First-Phase Construction Begins

CIA, declassified KH-4B image, April 20, 1972.
Declassified April 1972 satellite imagery the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center show developments which taken as a whole continue to represent both an ongoing first-phase construction project for the facility and early infrastructure development efforts within a longer-term plan for future expansion. This work laid the foundations for the construction of the facility’s first waste storage facility in the years to follow and the massive second phase expansion that would begin during the early-1980s.

Yongbyon Update: February Movement of Radioactive Material? Pt. II

Satellite imagery acquired on February 14, 2020 shows that the three specialized railcars identified in Beyond Parallel’s report from February 11, 2020 have been moved from west of the Radiochemistry Laboratory to the southern rail yard adjacent to the reported isotope/tritium production facility. A fourth railcar is present in the latest imagery in addition to the three railcars that were captured in imagery from February 10, 2020. These railcars have been associated with the movement of radioactive material in the past. If past practice is any indication, all four cars will leave the Yongbyon facility sometime during the next seven days.

Yongbyon Update: February Movement of Radioactive Material?

Satellite imagery acquired on February 10, 2020 shows the presence of three specialized railcars that have been associated with the movement of radioactive material in the past. The last observed presence of these railcars by Beyond Parallel was in November 2019. The size and number of the casks observed on the railcars suggest the outbound shipment of irradiated liquid or solid waste, disassembled but contaminated equipment or, potentially, the movement of fissile materials. A less likely alternative is the inbound shipment of radioactive material.

Unique Facility in the Sanum-dong-Namgung-ni Area

A new facility in Ippul-tong is speculated to be a storage facility for ballistic missile transporter-erector-launchers (TELs), mobile-erector-launchers (MELs), or transporter-erectors (TEs). However, there is no conclusive evidence that the facility is also involved in supporting ballistic missile or weapons development activities.

December 2019 Update: Chamjin-ni Vertical Engine Test Stand

The Chamjin-ni vertical engine test stand appears to be minimally maintained but apparently capable and available for engine testing at any time. It is North Korea’s oldest known test stand, developed in the 1980s. There is no evidence of recent tests. This is indicated by the absence of scarring in the exhaust deflector and color-infrared imagery showing healthy vegetation at the end of the exhaust deflector.

December 2019 Sinpo Update No. 2: Waiting for Godot

As with Beyond Parallel’s December 4 report, satellite imagery of the Sinpo South Shipyard collected on December 14, 2019 does not provide any indication of the launch of the much anticipated “newly built submarine” or preparations for the shipyard’s test stand. The only observation of significance at the shipyard is the presence of a 16-METER class midget submarine (SSW) moored alongside the barely visible submersible missile test stand barge in the shipyard’s secure boat basin.

December 2019 Update: Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground

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

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

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

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.

Yongbyon Update: November Movement of Radioactive Material?

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.

Yongbyon Declassified Part VI: Improved Road Networks

Collected 14 months after the image provided in Part 5 (November 21, 1968) this March 17, 1970 KH-4B image of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center shows continued expansion within the village of Sang-dong, minor improvements in the operations, administration/laboratory and support areas, slowly continuing construction of the bridge across the Kuryong-gang and minor infrastructure improvements in the Pungang-ni area. Taken as a whole, these developments continue to indicate an ongoing first-phase construction project for the facility and very early infrastructure development efforts within a longer-term plan for future expansion.

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

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.

Sinpo Update: Significant Concealment Activity after Pukguksong Launch

The October 2, 2019 Pukguksong-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test launch has raised concerns over the forthcoming launch of North Korea’s first true ballistic missile submarine (SSB) as described in the Beyond Parallel Snapshot, which was published the same day.

Yongbyon Declassified Part V: Expansion Begins Across the Kuryong-gang

Collected eleven months after the image provided in Part 4 (December 10, 1967) this November 21, 1968 KH-4B image of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center does not show any significant developments in the operations (with the IRT-2000 research reactor), support or administrative/laboratory areas. It does, however, show continuing development within the village of Sang-dong and the early stages of construction for a new road bridge across the Kuryong-gang in the Pungang-ni area that will connect the support area to the opposite side of the river. Taken as a whole, these developments represent both continuation of a first-phase construction project for the facility and the earliest infrastructure development stages within a longer-term plan for future expansion.

Undeclared North Korea: The Kumchon-ni Missile Operating Base

New CSIS Beyond Parallel imagery shows the undeclared Kumchon-ni missile operating base. This is the first comprehensive public description of the base. During wartime, it is reportedly tasked with striking southern Japan and, to a lesser degree, throughout South Korea.

Pakchon Uranium Concentrate Pilot Plant

The Pakchon Uranium Concentrate Pilot Plant is one of only two declared and known uranium concentrate plants in North Korea (Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant at Pyongsan is the other). This facility was used for Yellowcake production at least through the mid-1990s, and therefore would require inspection under any new U.S.-DPRK denuclearization declaration and agreement as it has not been subject to international inspection for over 25 years since IAEA visits to the site as part of the Full Scope Safeguards Agreement process in 1992.

Mining North Korea: Magnesite Production at Ryongyang Mine

A view of a portion of the surface mining operations at the Taehung Youth Hero Mine. (Foreign Trade, 2018, No. 107-01)
Ryongyang Mine is the largest magnesite mine in North Korea and one of the largest in the world. However, satellite and ground imagery show the infrastructure and technology in use at the mines is dated and obsolete when compared to world standards.

Yongbyon Declassified Part IV: Continued Construction Observed into 1967

Acquired almost two years after the image provided in Yongbyon Declassified Part III (February 11, 1966), this December 10, 1967 image of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center is one of the first acquired by the improved reconnaissance KH-4B. Among other improvements, the resolution of the newer KH-4B was 1.8 meters versus 2.7 meters of the earlier KH-4A allowing for considerably better image quality.

President Trump Crosses into North Korea

As the first sitting president in U.S. history to step into North Korea, Donald Trump’s action could be seen as a significant representation of the U.S. intention eventually to conclude a peace treaty.

Yongbyon Declassified Part III: Significant Construction of Facilities at Nascent Yongbyon Nuclear Site by 1966

Acquired seven months after the image provided in Yongbyon Declassified Part II (August 23, 1965) this 2.7-meter resolution image covers the Yongbyon area on February 11, 1966. While the general area remains primarily engaged in agricultural activity typical of rural North Korea during the 1960s, significant construction activity is observed at the nascent Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center and adjacent village of Sang-dong.

Commemorating the 2017 Hwasong-12 IRBM Launch?

Satellite imagery of the No. 112 Factory (sometimes identified as the January 12th Factory) located in Kusong, North Pyongan suggests that North Korea is constructing a monument memorializing its first successful Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) launch on May 14, 2017.

Undeclared North Korea: The Yusang-ni Missile Operating Base

Located 150 kilometers north of the DMZ, North Korea's Yusang-ni missile operating base is one of the more recently constructed Strategic Force missile operating bases. There has been almost no open source information about this base until this study.

Yongbyon: Movement of Specialized Railcars May Indicate Transfer of Radioactive Material

DigitalGlobe satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility acquired on April 12th shows the presence of five specialized railcars near the Uranium Enrichment Facility and the Radiochemistry Laboratory. In the past these specialized railcars appear to have been associated with the movement of radioactive material or reprocessing campaigns.

Is North Korea Preparing for a Military Parade?

On the eve of President Trump’s summit with ROK president Moon Jae-in, commercial satellite imagery acquired on April 7 shows that, although not conclusive, North Korea may be preparing for a parade to honor Kim Il-sung’s birthday (April 15) or KPA Foundation Day (April 25).

North Korea’s No. 17 Explosives Factory: No Significant Activity

Satellite imagery acquired on March 21, 2019 and over the past six months indicates that the No. 17 Explosives Factory near Hamhung is active. While no significant changes have occurred with its infrastructure during this period, the factory was expanded during 2012 with the construction of a large mixing/casting facility capable of producing large solid-propellant rocket motors for ballistic missiles.

Sohae Launch Facility Update: Quiet Since Early March

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.

Sohae Launch Facility Update—Work Continues; Concealment of Launch Pad and Engine Test Stand

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.

Sohae Launch Facility Update: North Korean “Snapback” After Hanoi

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.

After Hanoi Summit: Rebuilding of 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.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sangnam-ni Missile Operating Base

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.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sino-ri Missile Operating Base and Strategic Force Facilities

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.

Making Solid Tracks: North Korea’s Railway Connections with China and Russia

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.

Making Solid Tracks: North and South Korean Railway Cooperation

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.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sakkanmol Missile Operating Base

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).

Undeclared North Korea: Missile Operating Bases Revealed

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.

Yongbyon Declassified Part II: Progress on Building IRT-2000 Reactor

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.

North Korean Railways and Reconnections? Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex

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.

Yongbyon Declassified: At Ground Zero

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.

No Launch Activity in Advance of Inter-Korean Summit

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.

Yongbyon Declassified Part I: Early Work on First Nuclear Research Reactor

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 Operations Forces: Hovercraft Bases (Part IV)

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.

North Korean Special Operations Forces: Hovercraft Bases (Part III)

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.

North Korean Special Operations Forces: Hovercraft Bases (Part II)

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 Korean Special Operations Forces: Hovercraft Bases (Part I)

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.

Pyongyang Gas Stations and Fluctuating Fuel Prices

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.

Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge Closure

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.

Kaesong Industrial Complex Not Operational Despite Minor Activity

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.

The Politics of the North Korean Floods

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.

Implications of North Korean Flood

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.

Decrease in Trade After Nuclear Test

Dandong, China, remains the epicenter of cross-border economic transactions between China and North Korea, where regular boat, railway, and road traffic is witnessed.