Military, Nuclear Weapons

December 2019 Update: The Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility

Key Findings

  • 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.
Overview of the Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility as of December 6, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)

Increasingly provocative North Korean rhetoric during the past four months and the recent rocket engine test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground has raised concerns of the likelihood of more aggressive ballistic missile or WMD related actions by North Korea during the next several weeks. Among those actions speculated about is the conducting of a large solid rocket motor test from the Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility on the east coast.

The Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility was first identified under construction in commercial satellite imagery on March 18, 2013. It is the newest and largest such North Korean facility openly identified to date. The first publicly known use of the facility occurred about March 24, 2016 when Kim Jong-un “guided” a test of a large solid rocket motor.1 Not much else is known concerning operations at the facility and satellite imagery since that time provides no indications of additional tests.2

A satellite image acquired on December 6 shows minor activity (i.e., what appears to be the presence of a small truck and some crates) at the facility. However, this cannot presently be directly related to preparations for an imminent test.3 Additionally, no recent test appears to have been undertaken at either the west test stand used for small solid rocket motors (e.g., air-to-air missiles, small rockets, etc.) or the east test stand used for large solid rocket motors (e.g., ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles, etc.). The lack of recent testing at the east test stand is determined by both the absence of scarring in the exhaust deflector and that color-infrared imagery shows the vegetation at the end of the exhaust deflector is healthy and not burnt.4

As with all imagery of the facility during the past five years, the Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility appears to be well-maintained and apparently capable and available for future solid rocket motor testing at any time.

Close-up view of the processing building, administration building, and main entrance at the Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility as of December 6, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)

References

Show 4 Footnotes
  1. “Kim Jong Un Guides Ground Test of Jet of High-power Solid-fuel Rocket Engine and Its Cascade Separation,” Rodong Sinmun, March 24, 2016.
  2. This lack of satellite imagery to indicate additional tests does not negate the fact that additional test could have been undertaken.
  3. This should be viewed cautiously in light of the significant changes in test preparation procedures implemented by North Korea identified in our analysis of the recent Sohae rocket engine test. Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Victor Cha, “Sohae Engine Test Part of Coercive Diplomacy Tactic as End-of-Year Deadline Approaches,” Beyond Parallel, December 11, 2019, https://beyondparallel.csis.org/sohae-engine-test-part-of-coercive-diplomacy-tactic-as-end-of-year-deadline-approaches/.
  4. In the accompanying color infrared image of the east and west test stands, health and type of vegetation is indicated by shades of red. Healthy grass-like vegetation is indicated by a pale reddish tint while healthy trees exhibit a brighter red coloration. Burnt grass or tress would be in shades of grey or black.