Ballistic Missiles, Military

Sinpo South Shipyard: Preparations for a Pukguksong-3 SLBM Test?

Key Findings

  • A satellite image of the Sinpo South Shipyard acquired on September 4, 2020 shows some activity suggestive of preparations for an upcoming test of a Pukguksong-3 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from the submersible test stand barge based here.
  • The primary indicator suggesting preparations for a forthcoming Pukguksong-3 SLBM test launch is the presence of several vessels within the secure boat basin – one of which resembles vessels previously used to tow the submersible test stand barge out to sea.
  • Another indicator of a potential forthcoming SLBM test may be the presence of not one, but two ROMEO-class submarines (SS) anchored within the bay of the submarine base on Mayang-do.
  • There are no visible indications in the imagery that the highly anticipated, first true ballistic missile submarine (SSB) has been launched and North Korea’s existing SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) presumably remains moored along the dock under the removable canopy.
  • There is also activity around the static test stand on the south side of the Sinpo South Shipyard. This has been seen in the past both for maintenance and prior to ejections tests.
  • These apparent launch preparations might indicate the highly-speculated “October surprise,” which would be consistent with Beyond Parallel historical data that shows heightened provocations around U.S. presidential election years.
Overview of the Sinpo South Shipyard as of September 4, 2020.(Copyright © 2020 by Airbus)

A satellite image of the Sinpo South Shipyard acquired on September 4, 2020 shows some activity within the secure boat basin that is suggestive, but not conclusive, of preparations for an upcoming test of a Pukguksong-3 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from the submersible test stand barge based here. Such a forthcoming test would support escalating speculation that North Korea has been making advances in both ballistic missile and SLBM development during the past year and plans to demonstrate these new capabilities around the time of either its national Foundation Day on September 9th or the Korean Workers’ Party Foundation Day on October 10th.

The primary indicator suggesting preparations for a forthcoming Pukguksong-3 SLBM test launch is the presence of several vessels within the secure boat basin. One of these vessels is similar in size and layout to the ones previously observed prior to earlier tests. These vessels were used to tow the submersible test stand barge out to sea for the test launches.

There are no visible indications in the imagery that the highly anticipated “newly built submarine”—North Korea’s first true ballistic missile submarine—has been launched. While not visible under the approximately 102-meter-by-13-meter removable canopy—installed to restrict overhead observation of activity or vessels present underneath—it is presumed that the North’s existing SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) remains berthed along the dock under it. The approximately 18-meter-by-2-meter object visible on the dock opposite the submersible test stand barge appears to be an existing 18-meter class midget submarine (SSW) and not a new class of midget submarine or a shipping canister for a SLBM.1

Activity is also noted around the static test stand on the south side of the Sinpo South Shipyard where vehicles or equipment appear to be positioned around the rail-mounted service stand and test stand strong arm (used to raise a launch tube or missile into the vertical position for testing). Similar activity has been seen in the past both for maintenance and prior to ejections tests.

Overview of the rail-mounted service stand and test stand strong arm at the Sinpo South Shipyard as of September 4, 2020. (Copyright © 2020 by Airbus)

Also observed in the September 4, 2020 image are two ROMEO-class submarines (SS) anchored within the bay of the submarine base on Mayang-do. While a single ROMEO submarine is occasionally seen here, it is very unusual that two have been observed anchored in the bay. While the most likely reason for their presence is that they are exercising as part of the annual summer training cycle, preparations to observe a forthcoming SLBM test should not be ruled out at this time.

The two ROMEO-class submarines (SS) anchored within the bay of the Mayang-do Submarine Base as of September 4, 2020. (Copyright © 2020 by Airbus)
Close-up view of a ROMEO-class submarines (SS) anchored within the southern section of the bay of the Mayang-do Submarine Base as of September 4, 2020. (Copyright © 2020 by Airbus)
Close-up view of a ROMEO-class submarines (SS) anchored within the northern section of the bay of the Mayang-do Submarine Base as of September 4, 2020. (Copyright © 2020 by Airbus)

Little other activity is noted elsewhere in the area of the Sinpo South Shipyard.

References

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  1. The Sinpo South Shipyard had previously built this class of midget submarine and now maintains and overhauls them as required.