According to the latest analysis of satellite imagery taken at North Korea's Sinpo South Shipyard on November 5 conducted by the 38 North website, Pyongyang is pursuing an “aggressive schedule” to build its first operational ballistic missile submarine.
Continued movement of parts and components into and out of the parts yards adjacent to the construction halls indicates an ongoing shipbuilding program, the analysts concluded. "The presence of what appear to be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull in the yards suggests construction of a new submarine, possibly the SINPO-C ballistic missile submarine (SSB)- the follow-on to the current SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine," 38 North said in the report published today.
Additionally, Imagery from November 5 shows two larger circular objects that may be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull: "The diameter of the first object was 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 correct, that would imply that 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.
Separately, at the test stand, imagery from November 5 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. While there is no additional activity of note in the immediate area, the service tower remains in place. During the earlier development of the Pukguksong-1/KN-11, it was removed after testing campaigns. Therefore, the continued presence of this object suggests ongoing SLBM ejection tests. If correct, this is likely a continuation of the ejection test campaign reported during July of this year. Regardless, additional ejection tests should be expected in the future for further development of the Pukguksong-1, a potential Pukguksong-3, or other future SLBMs.
Such a test would also be valuable for validating missile launch systems for a new class of SSBs.
And while images of a test stand indicated continued experimenting with a mechanism for ejection launch of missiles from a submarine, so far, the report said, no activity could be seen suggesting preparations for a new test of a submarine-launched missile.
Last month, The Diplomat magazine quoted a U.S. government source as saying U.S. military intelligence had detected a new diesel-electric submarine under construction at Sinpo and dubbed it the Sinpo-C. It said the submarine was likely a larger successor to North Korea’s single experimental ballistic missile submarine.
Another article in The Diplomat last month quoted a U.S. government source as saying that North Korea had tested a new solid fuel engine sometime between Oct. 15 and Oct. 21. U.S. intelligence officials have declined to comment on this.