New activity from North's Sinpo South Shipyard
New activity has been observed around the 8.24 Yongung experimental ballistic missile submarine at the Sinpo South Shipyard's secure boat basin in North Korea's South Hamgyong Province during the past four weeks, according to a U.S. think tank on Tuesday.
Citing satellite imagery acquired by Satellogic during the past four weeks, the Washington-based Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)’s Beyond Parallel division reported that sometime between Jan. 5 and 8, 2022, the infiltration mother ship — which had been present within the secure boat basin since February 2021 and is rarely moved unexpectedly — exchanged positions with the submersible missile test stand barge that has been berthed at the basin since 2014.
Infiltration mother ships refer to vessels built to resemble fishing boats but which have significantly different hull designs and interior layouts. Such ships have previously been used by North Korea to deploy agents using high-speed landing craft for infiltrations into Japan and South Korea.
The author of the Beyond Parallel article, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., wrote, “It is unclear if the ongoing activity at the shipyard are indicators of continuing work on the 8.24 Yongung, new work being undertaken on infiltration ships, an ongoing deception program or a combination of these and other reasons.”
Previous satellite imagery analysis conducted by Beyond Parallel showed the 8.24 Yongung suffered damage during the test launch of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) by the North on Oct. 19, 2021, and that it underwent repair and maintenance work within the secure boat basin between October and November 2021 and within the Sinpo shipyard’s graving dock in early December before it returned to the secure boat basin in mid-December.
The North previously said it tested an SLBM from a submarine in 2016, but that claim was disputed by foreign and South Korean defense analysts, who said that launch took place aboard a barge rather than a submarine.
The North’s October launch took place a month after the South successfully conducted a “cold launch” of an SLBM, in which the SLBM’s engine ignites after it is first pushed out of the water with air pressure. This kind of launch prevents damage to the submarine itself.
Being launched from underwater, SLBMs are harder to detect in advance than land-based missiles.
For both Koreas, SLBMs are strategic weapons essential to maintaining retaliatory or second strike capability in the event of a nuclear attack. They are more difficult to detect than ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which require launching facilities that can be more easily detected through satellite and air reconnaissance.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]