Military

Sharp Focus: A Unique View of North Korea’s Sinpo South Shipyard

Key Findings

  • The Sinpo South Shipyard has been carefully watched by analysts inside and outside the government for its potential deployment of SLBM capabilities and a ballistic missile submarine. 
  • Using unique off-nadir imagery collection, this report provides a close-up focus of the test stand, construction halls, and related facilities at Sinpo South Shipyard. 
  • This is the first of several Sharp Focus reports providing a unique view of the Sinpo South Shipyard, Sinpo area, and Mayang-do navy facilities using a remarkable high off-nadir (HON) image collected by Maxar Technologies during April 2021.

On April 21, 2021, Maxar Technologies collected a remarkable high off-nadir (HON) image of the Sinpo South Shipyard that provides a unique look at the facility where North Korea built its sinpo-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) and is building its long-anticipated follow-on ballistic missile submarine (SSB). While most satellite imagery is collected at 0O to 35O off-nadir, the April 21 image was collected at 49.6O off-nadir—placing the WorldView-2 satellite approximately 780 kilometers away over the Yellow Sea. This image presents a view that an individual would have if they were looking at the facility out the window of a low-flying airplane, showing the sides of buildings and objects, and providing a sense of relative height.

A high-off nadir overview of the Sinpo South Shipyard, April 21, 2021. Click to enlarge.

Moving from south to north, the first facility that comes into view is the construction site at the southern tip of the Yuktaeso Peninsula. In 2012, North Korea excavated deep into a steep hillside to begin constructing a new maintenance hall and an approximately 245-meter-long L-shaped pier. The height of the hillside, depth of excavation, and height of the construction hall walls are clearly visible, as are the eight propaganda placards erected on the lower hillside.

A closeup view of the new maintenance hall and L-shaped pier dramatically showing the steepness of the hillside that was excavated, April 21, 2021. Click to enlarge.

On the 214-meter hilltop immediately above and northeast of the maintenance hall construction site is an air defense site with six revetments for medium caliber antiaircraft artillery pieces. While the site itself is relatively flat, the image illustrates the steepness of the slopes leading up to it.

The air defense site above the new maintenance hall and L-shaped pier, April 21, 2021. Click to enlarge.

Some 550-meters northeast and below the air defense site is the pop-up test stand. This facility is used to conduct pop-up tests to validate the construction and operation of a submarine-launched ballistic missile’s launch tube, ejection system, and ignition system. The April 21 image provides a height comparison between the rail-mounted service platform and the surrounding facilities while also showing the strong arm, impact pad, and launch control building. Also visible are several new buildings constructed during 2021. Present, although not visible in this image, is the entrance to a nearby underground facility.

A view of the pop-up test stand and its supporting buildings, April 21, 2021. The relative height of the rail-mounted service platform is apparent. Click to enlarge.
A ground view of Kim Jong-un visiting the pop-up test stand at the Sinpo South Shipyard (date unknown) as seen in a KCTV broadcast from July 13, 2017. The details of the crude service platform are clearly visible. (KCTV)

Located 600-meters to the east of the pop-up test stand is the 435-meter-long maintenance and storage pier for the shipyard. Vessels awaiting or having recently completed repairs are often seen here. While a floating dry-dock has been a fixture at the Sinpo South Shipyard since at least 2012, it has been berthed along this pier since about 2014. Aside from the floating dry-dock, two small fishing vessels are present along the pier. 

The maintenance and storage pier at the Sinpo South Shipyard, April 21, 2021. The shipyard’s floating dry-dock has been permanently berthed here since about 2014. Click to enlarge.

Directly north of the maintenance and storage pier is the southern section of the main shipyard. The April 21 image provides an excellent view of the original and second construction halls and the fabrication hall. The relative heights of these buildings are readily apparent, as are the bay doors, rails system for moving components between buildings, and the windows on the sides of the construction halls. Also visible in this image are the inclined repair way, open-air parts yard with two gantry and two tower cranes—the relative heights of these are obvious—along with the shipyard’s gas plant and several greenhouses and garden plots.1 It is here in the second construction hall that North Korea’s long-anticipated first true ballistic missile submarine (SSB) is being built. When this new SSB is launched, it will likely be moved under the security canopy in the secure boat basin for fitting out. The existing SSBA will probably be either moved into one of the construction halls or to a nearby submarine base for training.

The relative heights of the original and second construction halls, fabrication hall, and surrounding facilities are clearly visible in this April 21 image. Click to enlarge.

The center section of the main shipyard consists of several machine shops, engineering offices, support buildings, two monuments, and the secure boat basin. Visible within the secure boat basin are the submersible test stand barge, with its four corner support structures readily apparent, an infiltration “mother ship,” and an approximately 102-meter-by-13-meter removable canopy that presumably covers the sinpo-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA).2

The center section of the main shipyard and the secure boat basin, April 21, 2021. Click to enlarge.

The center section of the main shipyard contains the yard’s headquarters, engineering offices, and support facilities. Among the latter are the shipyard’s second open-air parts yard with a gantry crane, what appears to be a large fabrication hall, rail terminal and engine house, motor vehicle maintenance and storage facility, thermal plant, and several smaller facilities.

The northern section of the main shipyard that contains the yard’s headquarters, engineering offices, and support facilities, April 21, 2021. Click to enlarge.

References

Show 2 Footnotes
  1. Large industrial facilities and military units are often required to produce a certain amount of their own food.
  2. This canopy precludes detailed observation of activity beneath it. Similar canopies or netting (sometimes camouflaged) have occasionally been observed at other North Korean submarine bases and facilities to inhibit overhead observation.