Ballistic Missiles

Sinpo South Shipyard Update: Minor Activity

Key Findings

  • Minor activity is observed near the static test stand and the nearby Sinpo Shipyard’s graving dock in satellite imagery acquired on acquired on March 11, 2021.
  • Unidentified activity north of the test stand indicates new construction of three buildings that could support future test stand operations.
  • Observed within the shipyard’s secure boat basin are an infiltration “mothership,” submersible missile test barge and what is presumed to be the SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine.
  • There are no indications of preparations of a forthcoming “pop-up” test of a submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM); however, the North could launch the new SSB or conduct additional SLBM tests at any time of its choosing.
  • The current winter training cycle, which ends in April, could provide opportune time for doing so.
  • The launching of the new SSB or testing of an SLBM could present significant challenges to the new U.S. administration of President Biden.
Overview of the secure boat basin at the Sinpo South Shipyard as of March 11, 2021. (Copyright © CNES 2021, Distribution AIRBUS DS)

Satellite imagery of the Sinpo South Shipyard and its environs acquired on March 11, 2021 shows only minor activity near the static test stand and the nearby Sinpo Shipyard’s graving dock. As with our last report, there are no visible indications of  preparations for further “pop-up” testing of a submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) using either the static test stand or submersible test stand barge or the launch of the much anticipated first true ballistic missile submarine (SSB).

Given known and reported progress on the construction of the new SSB and the Pukkuksong family of SLBMs, the North is capable of either conducting additional SLBM tests or launching the new SSB at any time. The current winter training cycle, which ends in April, or this year’s summer training cycle (July-September) would provide opportune times for doing so if Kim Jong-un believes there is a political advantage in pursuing missile tests or the SSB launch. Regardless, any such decision could present significant challenges to the new U.S. administration of President Biden and South Korean President Moon.

Secure Boat Basin

Visible within the secure boat basin are the submersible test stand barge and a “mothership” (used for infiltration operations).1 Not visible but presumed to be positioned beneath the approximately 102-meter-by-13-meter removable canopy is the Korean People’s Navy’s sole SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA). This overhead canopy was installed as a denial procedure during September 2019 to restrict overhead observation of any submarine or other vessels beneath it.2 Another, albeit older, denial procedure is the high security wall on the piers that encompass most of the secure boat basin and restricts sea-level observation of activity within the boat basin.

Construction Halls and Support Buildings

As with our previous report, no significant activity is observed around the main two construction halls, fabrication buildings and machine shops. This is also true for the large open-air parts yard, gas plant, inclined repair way, and administration, engineering, and support buildings throughout the shipyard.

View of the construction halls and support buildings as of March 11, 2021. (Copyright © CNES 2021, Distribution AIRBUS DS)

Static Test Stand

At the static test stand no activity is observed that indicates either a recent SLBM “pop-up” test or preparations for an upcoming test.

The unidentified ground activity, approximately 100 meters north of the test stand, that was first observed during December 2020 now appears to be related to the construction of at least three new buildings 85-meters north of the stand. The construction activity itself began during late-February or early-March. It is too early to known how, or if, this activity will be in support of future test stand operations.

Overview of the static test stand at the Sinpo South Shipyard as of March 11, 2021. (Copyright © CNES 2021, Distribution AIRBUS DS)

New Maintenance Hall and Housing Complex

The unfinished construction of a large maintenance hall with L-shaped pier at the southern end of the Yuktaeso Peninsula, begun during 2009 and 2013 respectively but halted during late-2018, remains stalled. The pier was damaged during the 2020 typhoon season and remains in an incomplete and damaged state. These projects are believed to be in support of future SSB deployments. They may resume with the future launch of the first SSB.3 Likewise, the start of construction of a small housing project during early-2019, 675-meters east of the new maintenance hall, was halted and partially razed by August-2019 and remains in that state.

Close-up of an unfinished maintenance hall at the Sinpo South Shipyard as of March 11, 2021. (Copyright © CNES 2021, Distribution AIRBUS DS)
Close-up of the unfinished L-shaped pier to the south of the unfinished maintenance hall and slipway as of March 11, 2021. (Copyright © CNES 2021, Distribution AIRBUS DS)

Sinpo Shipyard

Located approximately 3.7-kilometers east of the Sinpo South Shipyard is the older Sinpo Shipyard. Activity here is primarily in support of fishing vessels of all sizes and occasionally small KPN combatants (e.g., patrol craft). However, since the completion of the largest (185-meters-by-60-meters) graving dock (dry dock) in the nation at the shipyard during 2010 it has frequently be used for the maintenance and overhaul of submarines based at the Mayang-do Navy Base. The satellite image acquired on March 11, 2021 shows a ROMEO-class submarine in the graving dock likely being readied for repairs or overhaul. The nature of the relationship between the Sinpo Shipyard and its graving dock to the Sinpo South Shipyard and the development of the SSBA and SSB, if any, is unclear. The size of the graving dock, however, is large enough to simultaneously accommodate several submarines (including the existing SSBA and future SSB).

Close-up of a ROMEO-class submarine at the Sinpo South Shipyard dry dock – the largest in North Korea – as of March 11, 2021. (Copyright © CNES 2021, Distribution AIRBUS DS)

References

Show 3 Footnotes
  1. Reports last year of a potential second submersible test stand barge at the Sinp’o South Shipyard (which would have made a total of three—the second being at the Namp’o Shipyard) have yet to be confirmed.

    Over the years the Sinp’o South Shipyard has not only built submarines of several classes but has also constructed, modified or maintained numerous classes of infiltration or hovercraft. It is not unusual to see different infiltration craft at various locations within the shipyard.

  2. Although the canopy was erected in September 2019 construction of its supports began several months earlier about June 2019.
  3. As noted in our previous report this halt of active construction could have equally been due to limitations in funding or construction resources.