December 2019 Sinpo Update: No Significant Developments

Key Findings

  • There is no evidence that the “newly built submarine” inspected by Kim Jong-un on July 23, 2019 has been launched.
  • While many media sources have described this new submarine as an imminent threat, it is more accurate to describe it as an emerging threat.
  • The large canopy constructed during late-August and early-September that conceals much of the submarine dock precludes confirmation that the existing SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) is present.
  • The submersible test stand barge, believed to have been employed for the first test launch of the Pukguksong-3 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on October 2, 2019, is present.
  • Only minor activity is observed at other locations throughout the shipyard.
  • The Pukguksong-3 SLBM represents a significant expansion of the threat posed by any operational North Korean SSB.
Overview of the Sinpo South Shipyard as of December 3, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 Planet Labs)

Despite North Korea’s well-publicized release of ground imagery on July 23, 2019 showing Kim Jong-un’s inspection of a “newly built submarine”—the long-expected follow-on ballistic missile submarine (SSB)—satellite imagery collected on December 3, 2019 provides no evidence that the new submarine has been launched.

Secure Boat Basin

Within the shipyard’s secure boat basin, the approximately 102-meter-by-13-meter removable canopy installed during late-August and early-September remains in place. It covers the part of the dock where the sinpo-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) and submersible test stand barge are normally berthed, and precludes detailed observation of activity beneath it.1 Although it is presumed that the SSBA is beneath the canopy this cannot be confirmed. A small portion of the submersible test stand barge, however, is just visible extending out from underneath the north end of the canopy. It is believed that this submersible test stand barge was employed for the first test launch of the Pukguksong-3 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on October 2, 2019. During that test the Pukguksong-3 flew a lofted trajectory to an apogee of approximately 910 kilometers and to a distance of approximately 450 kilometers.

It is likely that when the new SSB is launched the existing SSBA will be either moved into one of the construction halls, elsewhere in the shipyard or to a nearby submarine base for use in training.

Close-up view of the removable camouflaged net canopy and a portion of the submersible test stand barge that can be seen under it. (Copyright © 2019 Planet Labs)

Elsewhere at the Shipyard

At the construction halls, where the new SSB is believed to be under construction, only low-level movement of parts and components into and out of the parts yards is observed.

Close-up view of the construction halls and parts yards where minor activity has been observed as of December 3, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 Planet Labs)

At the test stand no activity of significance is noted in the current image and the support structure is positioned over the test stand. There are no indications of a recent, or preparations for a new, ejection test.

Close-up view of the test stand and support buildings in the Sinpo South Shipyard. (Copyright © 2019 Planet Labs)

Only minor progress is observed at what appears to be a new barracks area on the road south of the main shipyard to the new maintenance hall. This area consists of approximately 13 structures under construction. This location suggests that it could be used either to house workers at the new hall or support personnel. It is unlikely that it would be for crew members of the new SSB whom are likely to be housed in better accommodations.

Close-up view of what appears to be a new barracks area on the road between the main shipyard and the construction/maintenance hall where minor progress has been observed as of December 3, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 Airbus)

No new activity is observed at the new maintenance hall and L-shaped pier being built at the southern tip of the peninsula. This construction project, which began during 2012, appears to be on hold. When completed, the approximately 120-meter-long hall will be covered with earth to provide for a modest degree of protection of attack and is large enough to house any foreseeable submarines built at the Sinpo South Shipyard.

The December 3, 2019 image shows only minor activity typical of what has been observed during the winter months in the past at the shipyard’s northern support area.

View of the southern tip of the peninsula where construction of the maintenance hall and L-shaped pier appears to be on hold as of December 3, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 Planet Labs)


  1. Similar canopies or netting (sometimes camouflaged) have occasionally been observed at other North Korean submarine bases and facilities to inhibit overhead observation.