22 Jul 16. North Korea is constructing a fortified structure near the port city of Sinpo that will have what appears to be two covered docks (pens) that could shelter ballistic missile submarines (SSBs). Located 2.25 km south of the Sinpo shipyard, close to the Mayang-do Naval Base on the country’s east coast, the new base may be the largest active military building project in North Korea at the moment.
Commercial satellite imagery shows construction of the base began sometime between August 2009 and November 2012. Much of the harbour seen in 2009 (an area covering some 6,000 m²) had been blocked off by a sea wall and filled in by November 2012. Spoil from the surrounding hills was likely used as filling material.
The massive investment North Korea is making into building the new submarine bunker at Sinpo suggests it will be used to protect its most prized naval asset – the SSB capability it is currently developing – rather than its existing fleet of Romeo and far smaller Sang-O-class boats.
North Korea is known to currently have one SSB, which South Korea’s official Yonhap news agency calls the Sinpo class, while other sources refer to it as the Gorae class. Measuring approximately 67 metres in length, the SSB houses one ballistic missile launch tube that extends through its sail. This has been used to test Pukgeukseong (Polaris) submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
At 150 metres, each of the new pens in the Sinpo submarine bunker would be able to accommodate two such SSBs, but would have to be sufficiently high to enable their missiles to be loaded into their launch tubes from above.
Alternatively, the pens may have been designed to accommodate two larger SSBs that have not as yet been seen. Given the limitations in the endurance and missile carrying capability of the Sinpo/Gorae class, analysts have speculated that it is an experimental model that will pave the way for a larger SSB class. The development of an SSB that is larger than the 77 metre Romeos and cannot fit into the existing submarine bunkers might explain why North Korea is building the new facility near Sinpo.
However, the utility of the new submarine bunker is questionable as it will have to be very heavily protected to survive hits by the 14-tonne GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator that is in service with the US Air Force. Even if it can survive such impacts, it might be possible to damage the entrances to the pens to prevent submarines from entering or leaving. Nevertheless, the covered pens would make it harder to track how many SSBs are at sea at any given time. This uncertainty would in turn enhance North Korea’s strategic deterrent if the submarines were believed to be carrying nuclear-armed missiles. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
21 Jul 16. Imagery shows Chinese HQ-9 battery being removed from Woody Island. Satellite imagery captured on 10 July shows an HQ-9 strategic surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery on Woody Island in the process of being taken off the island on board a Chinese naval vessel.
The Airbus Defence and Space image revealed that the battery had been removed from its deployment site along the northern coast of Woody Island in the Paracels, a move that coincided with the conclusion of military exercises in the area that took place prior to the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA’s) 12 July ruling on the South China Sea dispute.
Imagery taken on 8 July shows most of the dispersed HQ-9 battery components concealed under camouflage netting. Three transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicles and the battery’s Type 305A target acquisition radar (TAR) remained uncovered.
Imagery captured a day later shows HQ-9 battery components uncovered and garrisoned together near the radar position. On 10 July, subsequent imagery showed a column of vehicles, including probably HQ-9 TELs, parked on a road adjacent to the island’s southern harbour.
A Type 072A landing ship berthed in the harbour represented a possible transhipment option for the equipm