Military, Nuclear Weapons

December 2019 Update: The Nampo Submersible Missile Test Stand Barge

Key Findings

  • The submersible test stand barge located at the Nampo Naval Shipyard on the west coast of North Korea is likely capable of conducting a SLBM test launch at any time.
  • Imagery collected from the last several months show minor activity has resumed as of December 2 after a two-month hiatus in October and November. Similar activity was last observed in September of this year.
  • There are no signs indicating that the submersible test stand barge is being prepared for an imminent SLBM launch.
  • Despite this, readiness of the test stand barge indicates that a SLBM demonstration should not be ruled out as a potential upcoming demonstration with just over two weeks left in the DPRK’s professed end-of-year diplomacy deadline.
Minor activity is observed at the submersible test stand barge at the Nampo Navy Shipyard as of December 2, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Maxar Technologies)

Recent satellite imagery acquired on December 2, 2019 shows minor activity adjacent to North Korea’s second submersible missile test stand barge located at the Nampo Naval Shipyard.1 This activity consists of what appears to be a small truck and several people on the dock of the secure basin in which the barge has been docked since late last year. While this activity is similar to that observed in imagery from September 18, 2019, no similar activity has been noted in imagery during October or November. In the current image the netting which has frequently been suspended over the barge from its superstructure appears to be partially removed—perhaps to allow work to proceed on the barge.

Given the time the barge has spent at this location and the activity observed on or around the vessel over the past two years, it is likely that it is capable of conducting a test launch of a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) anytime the North Korean leadership decides to do so.2 The level and type of activity observed during the past four months, however, does not suggest that the Nampo submersible missile test stand barge is being prepared for an imminent SLBM test launch.

References

Show 2 Footnotes
  1. Both the Sinpo (first observed in December 2014) and Nampo (first observed in April 2017) submersible test stand barges appear to be the same size (~9 meters-by-22.5-meters). They are similar in design and size to the PSD-4 used by the Soviet/Russian Navy.
  2. Submersible test stand barges are a critical component of most ballistic missile submarine and SLBM development and test programs.