Ballistic Missiles

Sinpo South Shipyard Update: No Signs of Imminent Provocation

Key Findings

  • No significant activity was observed at the Sinpo South Shipyard in satellite imagery acquired on February 3, 2021.
  • 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.
  • The submersible test stand barge is believed to have been employed for the first test launch of the Pukkuksong-3 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
  • There are no visible indications of preparations for the launch of the much anticipated “newly built submarine”—North Korea’s first true ballistic missile submarine (SSB).
  • No significant activity is observed at the static test stand and there are no indications of preparations of a forthcoming “pop-up” test of an SLBM.
  • North Korea could launch the new SSB or conduct additional SLBM tests at any time of its choosing.
  • The launching of the new SSB or testing of an SLBM could present significant challenges to the new Biden administration.

No significant activity is observed in satellite imagery of the Sinpo South Shipyard collected during the past several months. Typical of this is an image acquired on February 3, 2021. As was the case in our last report, there are no visible indications of launch preparations of the much-anticipated “newly built submarine” – those of either North Korea’s first true ballistic missile submarine or a further “pop-up” testing of a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) using the static test stand or the submersible test stand barge. The barge was last reportedly used for the first test launch of the Pukkuksong-3 SLBM. Given known and reported progress on the construction of the new SSB and Pukkuksong family of SLBMs, the North could launch the new SSB or conduct additional SLBM tests at any time of its choosing—the current winter training cycle could provide convenient timing to do so. Any such activity could present significant challenges to the new U.S. President Biden and South Korean President Moon administrations.

Secure Boat Basin

Visible within the secure boat basin are the submersible test stand barge and a “mothership” (used for infiltration operations).1 While not visible, it is presumed that the North’s existing SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) remains berthed along the dock under the approximately 102-meter-by-13-meter removable canopy—installed to restrict overhead observation. The clarity of the February 3, 2021 image shows some details of the covered opening in the center of the canopy that allows for access to the top of the conning tower and the submarine’s sole launch tube. No vehicles or equipment are observed on the boat basin’s dock.

Close-up view of the secure boat basin, with a submersible test stand barge, a mothership for infiltration operations, and a canopy covering what is presumed to be a SINPO-class SSBA. (Copyright © 2021 by Maxar Technologies)

Construction Halls and Support Buildings

No significant activity is observed at the main construction halls, fabrication buildings, and machine shops in the image acquired on February 3, 2021. This is also true for the inclined repair way, large open-air parts yard, gas plant, and other administration, engineering, and support buildings throughout the shipyard.

Close-up view of the main construction halls, fabrication buildings, machine shops, and the inclined repair way. (Copyright © 2021 by Maxar Technologies)
Close-up view further northwest of the main construction halls includes the main fabrication building, greenhouses, a parts yard, and a gas plant. (Copyright © 2021 by Maxar Technologies)

Static Test Stand

No activity is observed to suggest either an upcoming or recent SLBM test at the static test stand. The clarity of the February 3, 2021 image shows both the details of the rail-mounted service stand, a missile strong-arm used to raise a launch tube to the vertical position, and what appears to be a small unidentified object—potentially a small maintenance stand. However, satellite imagery of the test stand collected during the previous several months did show some minor movement of a few vehicles or equipment, which suggest maintenance activity.

Close-up view of the static test stand and support buildings in the Sinpo South Shipyard. (Copyright © 2021 by Maxar Technologies)

New Maintenance Hall and Housing Complex

At the southern end of the Sinpo South Shipyard, on the Yuktaeso Peninsula, North Korea started constructing a large maintenance hall with an L-shaped pier during 2009 and 2013, respectively. Some believe this project to be in support of future SSB deployments. Delays in construction and launch of the first SSB may have led to a halt in active construction during late-2018, leaving them both unfinished.2

Close-up view of the unfinished maintenance hall and shipway. (Copyright © 2021 by Maxar Technologies)
Close-up view of the unfinished L-shaped pier with heavy damage. (Copyright © 2021 by Maxar Technologies)

Approximately 675-meters east of the new maintenance hall, on the east shore of the Yuktaeso Peninsula, North Korea built a small housing project during early-2019. However, this project was partially razed by August-2019. The complex remains partially razed today. The reason for building and then partially razing of this housing complex is unknown. The most likely explanation was that it was for construction workers for some unknown project that was terminated.3

Close-up view of the unfinished housing complex. (Copyright © 2021 by Maxar Technologies)

References

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

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

  2. This halt of active construction could have equally been due to limitations in funding or construction resources.
  3. If this explanation is correct, it is unlikely that the project was for the new maintenance hall and L-shaped pier as construction of these were halted sometime in 2018.