38 North, a research group dedicated to analysing North Korea, released a new report indicating that North Korea is on an aggressive schedule to build and deploy its first operational ballistic missile submarine.
The report states that the continued movement of parts and presence of what appear to be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull in the yards, as seen on commercial satellite imagery of the Sinpo South Shipyard from November 5, indicates that North Korea is building a new submarine, possibly the new SINPO-C ballistic missile submarine.
The imagery shows two larger circular objects that may be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull, according to the report. The diameter of the first object is approximately 7.1 meters, while the diameter of the second starts at approximately 7.1 meters and reduces to approximately 6.1 meters. The larger object has what appears to be two internal cross members that could be used to support decks or internal equipment. If these assessments are correct, then the shipbuilding program is for a submarine with a beam broader (in width) than the ROMEO-class attack submarine (6.7 meters)—meaning it is potentially a SINPO-C SSB, the reported follow-on to the SINPO-class SSBA.
The imagery also shows an object visible at the top of the service tower that appears to be either a launch canister support or launch canister. This object does not appear in previous satellite or ground images of the test stand. During the earlier development of the Pukkuksong-1 missile, it was removed after testing campaigns. Therefore, the continued presence of this object suggests ongoing SLBM ejection tests.
Both the SINPO-class submarine and submersible missile test stand barge remain berthed at the same locations in the secure boat basin as observed over the past four months, with the tarps over them still in place.
Located 3.8 kilometers to the east of the Sinpo South Shipyard is a large dry-dock that is likely associated with the shipyard. During November-December 2016, a ROMEO-class attack submarine from the Mayang-do Shipyard was transferred to this dry-dock. Here it has been undergoing what appears to be a complete overhaul. At present, the outer hull has been removed from most of the submarine exposing its inner pressure hull.
Construction of the new construction/maintenance hall on the southern tip of the Yuktaeso-ri (Sinpo) Peninsula, which began in 2012, continues very slowly. Located on the west side of the Yuktaeso-ri Peninsula, the modernization and rebuilding of the port of Nopyong-ni is also continuing very slowly. While the construction of the construction/maintenance hall at Yuktaeso-ri may be related to the future development and deployment of a SSB capability, this does not appear to be the case at Nopyong-ni.