Ballistic Missiles, Military

Sinpo South Shipyard Update: Days Before October 10 Celebration

Key Findings

  • An October 5, 2020 image of the Sinpo South Shipyard shows both a decreased number of vehicles and equipment present at the static test stand, and that much of the pad around it has now been covered with grain to dry.
  • Within the secure boast basin, the probable crane, vehicle/trailer, and probable 18-meter class midget submarine are no longer present dockside.
  • Though this activity is not unusual, it may be related to the reported sightings of a SLBM as reported in the South Korean press.
  • The existing SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine likely remains under the canopy at the secure boat basin. Examination of available imagery of the Mayang-do shipyard and submarine base, and nearby naval facilities do not show the presence of either the existing SINPO-class SSBA or a newly launched ballistic missile submarine.
  • With the upcoming Korean Workers’ Party Foundation Day celebration on October 10, a SLBM test should not be ruled out as a possibility for Kim Jong-un’s self-proclaimed “October surprise.” Such a test 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 seen on October 5, 2020 (Copyright © 2020 by Planet)

A satellite image of the Sinpo South Shipyard acquired on October 5, 2020 does not show any unusual activity. Recent reports that U.S. intelligence had collected imagery of a North Korean submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) may have been referring to the recent activity within the secure boat basin, the shipyard’s static test stand (mentioned in our previous report), or activity at some other unidentified location.

The current image of the shipyard shows both a decreased number of vehicles and equipment present at the static test stand, and that much of the pad around it has now been covered with grain to dry (a typical North Korean practice this time of year). Within the secure boast basin, the probable crane, vehicle/trailer, and probable 18-meter class midget submarine are no longer present dockside. The crane, vehicle/trailer, and other activity within the secure boat basin observed during September were suggestive, but not conclusive, of preparations for an upcoming Pukguksong-3 SLBM test from the barge. While the submersible test stand has been repositioned in the current image, its resolution is insufficient to determine if there have been any changes to it. All this activity might have been related to the reported sightings of a SLBM. However, there is no confirmation of this.

View of the static test stand on the south side of the Sinpo South Shipyard as of October 5, 2020. (Copyright © 2020 by Planet)

Also, though barely visible, within the secure boat basin are portions of a submarine berthed under the approximately 102-meter-by-13-meter removable security canopy—installed to restrict overhead observation and only a single additional vessel remains. The submarine berthed under the security canopy is likely to be the North’s existing SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA). Examination of available imagery of the Mayang-do shipyard and submarine base, and nearby naval facilities do not show the presence of either the existing SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine or a newly launched ballistic missile submarine.

The probability of the launching of the new SSB is believed by some to be increasing. However, the imagery provides no clues as to whether this is imminent. Launching the new submarine sometime around the October 10 Korean Workers’ Party Foundation Day celebration would reinforce any revelations at what will likely be a major military parade given the activity observed both in Kim Il-sung Square during the past week and the activity observed at the Mirim Parade Training Facility on the east side of Pyongyang during the past two months.

Any new test of a Pukguksong-3 (or a follow-on SLBM) or the launching of the new ballistic missile submarine are not likely the “new strategic weapon” Kim Jong-un promised in December 2019. This terminology likely refers to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a further nuclear test.