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. This information is not only important for clarifying the historical record and for understanding North Korean intentions, but it gives present-day policymakers and nuclear scientists a way to assess and measure the specific components of the nuclear weapons program and the stages in which they were developed.
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.