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No Significant Activity Observed in N. Korea's Sinpo South Shipyard
Special Contribution
By Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. & Victor Cha
Overview of Sinpo South Shipyard in North Korea on Sept. 1, 2021

Key Findings

•No significant activity is observed that indicates preparations for the launching of the much-anticipated new ballistic missile submarine (SSB) or preparations for a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test.
•Additionally, there are no indications of either a recent SLBM test or preparations for an upcoming test at the pop-up test stand.
•No significant activity is observed elsewhere at the shipyard.
•North Korea retains the capability and resources to 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 (at sea or from the static test stand) would be seen by the Biden administration as a significant provocation.

Thirteen satellite images of the Sinpo South Shipyard and its environs collected between April 21 and Sept. 1, 2021, provide an opportunity to update the status of the facility. While no indications were observed in the imagery suggesting preparations for the launching of the much-anticipated new ballistic missile submarine or preparations for a submarine-launched ballistic missile test, it is important to note that North Korea maintains the capability to undertake any of these on short notice should Kim Jong-Un decide to do so. This capability must be kept in mind, particularly as South Korean reports during the past month describing their development and launching of a new class of ballistic missile submarine and reported testing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile have likely placed considerable pressure on Kim Jong-Un to finally authorize the launching of North Korea’s much-anticipated first true SSB. Any such launch would not only have practical benefits but would also be aimed at nullifying the South’s recent propaganda successes in conducting joint exercises with the US. The launch would also allow North Korea to capitalize on any perceived weaknesses of the US administration of President Biden as it is struggling with the fallout from the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Secure Boat Basin

While there have been occasional dockside activities observed at the secure boat basin, none of these appear to be related to a recently launched SSB or preparations for a new SLBM test from either the submersible missile test stand barge or SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA). The latter is still assessed as being positioned beneath the approximately 102-meter-by-13-meter removable canopy installed as a denial procedure during September 2019 to restrict overhead observation of any submarine or vessel beneath it. The “mothership” (used for infiltration operations) that was moved into the secure boat basin earlier this year remains berthed alongside the south pier of the basin.

Construction Halls and Fabrication Halls

No significant activity was observed at the two construction halls, large fabrication hall, open-air parts yard, inclined repair way, gas plant, or the administration, engineering, and support buildings throughout the shipyard.

In general, the small maritime movements observed around the construction hall and its associated pier earlier this year have continued. While these have not been related to the launch of a new SSB or an SLBM test, they do provide clear indications of both a low level of continuing activity at the fabrication halls and a basis upon which to judge future movements. Typical movements observed during the past six months were:

1. A small infiltration-type vessel was loaded onto the shipyard’s floating dry-dock on May 6. This was subsequently moved to the south side of the second construction hall’s slipway by May 11 and was joined by a small vessel (likely a harbor tug). These craft remained here until at least May 31, but were not present in June imagery.
2. A crane/dredger barge was observed alongside the south side of the second construction hall’s slipway on July 5. By July 16 it was repositioned to the east side of the slipway, and during July 17-23 it was working just east of the slipway. It remained here until at least Aug. 3 and was no longer present in September.
3. The loading of a small vessel onto the shipyard’s floating dry-dock was observed during Sept. 1-2.

Pop-up Test Stand

No significant activity was observed at the pop-up test stand and there are no indications of recent or pending SLBM pop-up tests. The construction activity approximately 100 meters north of the test stand first noted in our March 19 report now consists of at least three buildings. Two of these buildings have been roofed and the third now appears to be a greenhouse. Additionally, two circular gardens — typical of those seen at larger facilities — have been erected. Just how, or if, this activity will be in support of future test stand operations is unclear.

New Maintenance Hall and Housing Complex

While nothing of significance was observed at the unfinished maintenance hall at the southern end of the Yuktaeso Peninsula, the associated L-shaped pier, which was damaged during this year’s typhoon season, has been undergoing repair since May 2021. Typically, there have been 4-6 vessels, including a crane/dredger barge, and 1-3 hopper barges present undertaking repairs.

Sometime during late April or early May, work was observed at the small, abandoned housing project on the east side of the Yuktaeso Peninsula. Given the timing and presence of construction-type vehicles, it is likely to be associated with the repair work on the L-shaped pier. Potentially, it might be an indicator that work on the unfinished maintenance hall may resume in 2022.

Sinpo Shipyard Graving Dock

During the past six months, the graving dock at the Sinpo Shipyard has remained active with vessels, warships, and submarines being present for varying lengths of time. Most recently, a ROMEO-class submarine has entered the graving dock.

The above writer Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. is an internationally recognized analyst, award-winning author, and lecturer on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs and ballistic missile development in developing countries. He is concurrently senior fellow for Imagery Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS); senior adviser and imagery analyst for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK); author for IHS Markit (formerly the Jane’s Information Group); and publisher and editor of KPA Journal. Formerly, he has served as founder and CEO of KPA Associates, LLC, senior imagery analyst for 38 North at Johns Hopkins SAIS, chief analytics officer and co-founder of AllSource Analysis, Inc., and senior all-source analyst for DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center.

Cowriter Victor Cha is senior vice president and the inaugural holder of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.



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