Military

Sinpo South Shipyard Update

Key Findings

  • Satellite image collected on April 20, 2022, provides one of the most detailed and current views of continued activity at the Sinpo South Shipyard.
  • No significant activity was observed indicating preparations for the launching of the much-anticipated new ballistic missile submarine (SSB), preparations for a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test from either the 8.24 Yongung (August 24th Hero) experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA), or the submersible test stand barge.
  • Ongoing activity is observed at the nearby L-shaped pier and unfinished maintenance hall.
  • North Korea retains the capability and resources to launch its first true SSB or conduct additional SLBM tests at any time of its choosing.

Assessment

A high-resolution Airbus 30-centimeter Neo satellite image of the Sinpo South Shipyard and its environs was collected on April 20, 2022, providing a detailed opportunity to observe the facility’s current status.

No significant activity is observed to indicate preparations for the launching of the much-anticipated new ballistic missile submarine (SSB), preparations for a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test from the 8.24 Yongung (August 24th Hero) experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA), or the submersible test stand barge.

North Korea, however, maintains the capability to undertake any of these actions on short notice should Kim Jong-un decide to do so. This capability must be kept in mind as an increasing probability considering the North’s accelerated testing rate of various ballistic missile systems during the past seven months.

Overview of the Sinpo South Shipyard and its environs, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

Secure Boat Basin

While North Korea continues to actively work on the 8.24 Yongung (August 24th Hero) experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) as evidenced by our March 29 report, no new activity of significance is observed within the secure boat basin. While the submersible test stand barge and infiltration “mothership” (used for infiltration operations) are clearly visible in the image, only a small section of the bow of the 8.24 Yongung is visible, extending out from underneath the south end of the removable canopy.

Overview of the secure boat basin, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

The 30-centimeter resolution satellite image allows for a refinement of previous estimates of the dimensions for both the removable canopy and submersible test stand barge, which are now assessed at being 96-meters-by-14-meters and 22-meters-by-9-meters, respectively. On the barge, the central launch tube mounting ring and four support structures are clearly visible. A 12-meter-long harbor tug is tied up alongside the barge. Details of the infiltration “mothership” used for infiltration operations tied up at the stern of the submarine suggest that work is being undertaken on its engine compartment or wet-well.1

A closeup view of the secure boat basin showing the presence of the 8.24 Yongung (August 24th Hero) under the removable canopy and details of an infiltration “mothership.” The outlines of the submarine’s hull and conning tower are just visible through the openings in the camouflage netting of the canopy, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

The reasons North Korea has not yet launched its much-anticipated new ballistic missile submarine (SSB) or conducted a test launch of one of the newer members of the Pukkuksong family of SLBMs are unclear. The most common thoughts are that this delay centers around the operational status of the 8.24 Yongung (August 24th Hero), availability of operational Pukkuksong SLBMs, challenges with the launching of a new SSB, or any combination of these.

A closeup view of the submersible missile test barge showing the details of the mounting point for an SLBM launch tube and four support towers, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

Construction Halls, Fabrication Halls, and Machine Shops

Minor activity (e.g., trucks, personnel, etc.) is observed in the construction and fabrication halls, open-air parts yard, and administration, engineering, and support buildings. This activity provides no strong indication of an imminent launch of North Korea’s much anticipated first true ballistic missile submarine (SSB) or the production of new submarines.

Support Pier

The April 20 image shows that the shipyard’s floating dry dock is berth at its normal position along the support pier, approximately 300-meters to the south of the main construction halls. This image provides a level of detail concerning the floating dry dock and activity along the pier that is not normally seen. Visible aboard the floating dry dock is what appears to be a smaller infiltration “mothership” undergoing repair and overhaul.

A detailed view of the floating dry dock, the vessel onboard, and the activity along the pier, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

Pop-up Test Stand

No significant activity is observed at the pop-up test stand, and there are no indications of recent or forthcoming SLBM pop-up tests.

A detailed view of the pop-up test stand showing the two-level rail-mounted work platform that is rolled back from over the stand’s strongarm. An unidentified object, probably equipment, is visible on the pad, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

New Maintenance Hall and Housing Complex

While construction/repair work at the L-shaped pier and unfinished maintenance hall at the southern end of the Yuktaeso Peninsula has proceeded very slowly during the past year, the current image shows that repair and expansion work on the pier damaged in the 2021 typhoon season is continuing. Numerous workers are seen walking along the shore and on the pier, and 3-meter-by-2-meter concrete caissons line the pier waiting to be installed, and slipway in front of the unfinished maintenance hall.

Approximately 14 small vessels are present, including a crane/dredger barge and 2 hopper barges. It is unclear if this activity indicates that work on the unfinished maintenance hall will resume in 2022.

The current 30-centimeter resolution satellite image also allows for a refinement of previous estimates of the dimensions for the pier, which is now assessed as being 246-meters-long and 14- or -15-meters-wide.

Repair work being undertaken to on the L-shaped pier that was damaged during last year’s typhoon season, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

Activity is also noted at the worker housing and support area located approximately 700-meters to the east of the pier and the unfinished maintenance hall. Approximately seven trucks, four smaller vehicles, and numerous personnel are seen around this area.

Increased activity at the housing and support areas on the east side of the Yuktaeso Peninsula, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

Sinpo Shipyard Graving Dock

During the past six months, the graving dock at the Sinpo Shipyard has remained active with maintenance and repair work on fishing vessels. The current image shows details of the dock that is being flooded and the eight vessels that will likely be moved out shortly. Over the past several years, warships and submarines have also been present for varying lengths of time, including the 8.24 Yongung SSBA.

The graving dock at the Sinpo Shipyard showing eight vessels that will shortly be moved out of the dock, April 20, 2022. Click to enlarge. Copyright © Airbus DS 2022.

References

Show 1 Footnote
  1. For a brief explanation of the relationship between the Sinpo South Shipyard infiltration motherships please see: Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Victor Cha, and Jennifer Jun. “Sinpo South Shipyard Update: Activity Within the Secure Boat Basin,” Beyond Parallel, February 8, 2022, https://beyondparallel.csis.org/sinpo-south-shipyard-update-activity-within-the-secure-boat-basin/.