Sinpo South Shipyard Update: Vessel Movements and New Construction
- Six high-resolution satellite images collected between August 11 and September 12, 2022, show recent vessel activity within the secure boat basin and new construction in the area of the maintenance hall at the Sinpo South Shipyard.
- No significant activity is observed indicating imminent preparations for the launching of the much-anticipated new ballistic missile submarine (SSB), 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.
- North Korea retains the capability and resources to launch its first true SSB or conduct additional SLBM tests at any time of its choosing.
- The Sinpo South Shipyard and activities within it play critical roles in the development of North Korea’s SSB and SLBM capabilities.
Six high-resolution satellite images of the Sinpo South Shipyard and its environs collected between August 11 and September 12, 2022, provide a detailed opportunity to update 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), 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.
However, North Korea 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 year and the potential to arm any future SSB with nuclear-armed SLBMs.
The reasons North Korea has not yet launched its much-anticipated new SSB are unclear. However, the most common thoughts are that this delay centers around the operational status of the 8.24 Yongung, availability of operational Pukkuksong SLBMs, challenges with the launching of a new SSB, or any combination of these.
Secure Boat Basin
A satellite image of the Sinpo South Shipyard and its environs collected on August 11 shows the submersible test stand barge, infiltration mothership, and the 8.24 Yongung SSBA in the same locations observed in our June 28 report.
A little over two weeks later, on August 28, the submersible test stand barge had been moved to the northside pier of the secure boat basin. The infiltration mothership, 12-meter-long harbor tug, and the 8.24 Yongung remain in their previous locations. Notably, what appears to be the top of the submarine’s conning tower is just visible through the pulled-backed opening in the overhead canopy.
Two weeks later, on September 12, the submersible test stand barge had been returned to its previous position along the southside pier of the secure boat basin, and the harbor tug had departed. This higher resolution image clearly shows the pulled-backed opening in the overhead canopy and the submarine’s conning tower.
With the notable exceptions of February and March 2022, when satellite imagery identified the presence of a telescoping crane or unidentified equipment dockside of the infiltration “mothership,” the absence of observed dockside activity at the secure boat basin has become the norm. Likewise, low-level vessel movements within the secure boat basin have also become somewhat routine during 2022.1 The most likely explanations for these characteristics appear to be routine maintenance activities, components of an ongoing strategic concealment and deception plan, or a combination of both.
No significant changes are observed with the shipyard’s construction or fabrication halls in the recently acquired satellite imagery. The higher off-nadir angle of the August 11, 2022, image does provide a unique, albeit extremely limited, view of the interiors of the halls through their partially open doors. Regrettably, nothing of significance is visible.
Located immediately south of the construction halls is the support pier, which is where the floating dry dock is berthed. In all the recently collected imagery, the floating dry dock remains empty, and the floating crane barge seen here on August 11 is no longer present.
Pop-up Test Stand
Located southwest of the construction halls is the pop-up test stand (also known as an ejection test stand). This facility has been used to conduct pop-up tests to validate the construction and operation of the launch tube, ejection system, and ignition system of SLBMs. No known tests have been conducted here during 2022, and the test stand had remained unchanged until sometime about August 28, when some minor excavation was noted on the impact pad. The September 12 image shows this excavation to advantage. However, this excavation does not appear to be from a recent pop-up test. The test stand’s strong arm and rail-mounted service platform are clearly visible in the September 12 image, as is a small stand-off to the side.
Elsewhere at the Sinpo South Shipyard
Located at the southern tip of the Yuktaeso Peninsula, a maintenance hall, L-shaped pier, and seawall are still under construction. Construction of the maintenance hall—presumed to have initially been to support the North’s yet-to-be launched first true SSB—has remained suspended for many years and the latest imagery shows no significant change in that status. The current high-resolution image now allows for a more accurate assessment of what had previously been described as netting suspended over crates and shipping containers. This is now identified as being an irregularly shaped rock pile.
Construction activity at the L-shaped pier has declined significantly during the summer of 2022, although a hopper barge and 11 support/fishing vessels remain moored alongside the pier. Numerous concrete blocks and caissons remain lined up along the pier, waiting to be placed. Along the shoreline, construction of the seawall, which had been continuing in intermittent spurts, has resumed. Since July, new construction has begun at a point approximately 250-meters east of the unfinished maintenance hall. It is too early to determine whether this is simply a continuation of the existing seawall or the beginning of a new jetty.
On the southeast corner of the Yuktaeso Peninsula are two small facilities housing construction workers, construction headquarters, greenhouses, warehouses, and a small motor vehicle maintenance and storage facility. These workers and facilities are responsible for the construction at the southern end of the peninsula. Continuing activity is observed in all six satellite images acquired between August 11 and September 12, 2022.
Located northeast side of the Sinpo South Shipyard is one of the largest graving docks in North Korea. As noted in previous reports, varying numbers of fishing vessels have been observed here during most of 2022. However, the current images show that the graving dock has remained empty for the past two months.
- One notable exception to this was, prior to and after, the reported May 7, 2022, test of an SLBM, when there undoubtedly was a significant presence of equipment and personnel dockside and vessel movements. Unfortunately, the Sinpo area was cloud-covered, and no imagery is publicly available to determine the nature and extent of any such activity. ↩