There are signs that North Korea is preparing the launch of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) at a submarine maintenance facility in Sinpo Shipyard, Daily NK has learned.

“There have been no reports of damage from [recent] typhoons at the submarine ballistic missile base in Sinpo Shipyard, and the shipyard is currently rushing to finish final preparations for a ballistic test [launch],” a source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK yesterday.

According to the source, Sinpo Shipyard suffered considerable damage from recent typhoons, including broken cranes and damaged boats. The submarine maintenance base, an important facility to the regime, did not suffer any particular damage because base managers took pains to prevent any damage from the storms, he said.

“The shipyard had already gradually begun preparations for the launch of a SLBM some time ago, but they began pushing harder to [finish the preparations] from this month [September],” the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Daily NK. “[The site] is bustling with activity to prepare for the ballistic missile launch, with central [government] officials and researchers arriving at the site from late August, along with the mobilization of many military units.”

The source further told Daily NK that “the atmosphere [around the site] is unusual because officials and laborers are unable to leave the facility, for example.”

In short, the source made it clear that the environs of the submarine maintenance base are covered by “airtight” security, and outsiders – even those working at the shipyard (in other capacities) – are not allowed near the base.

“It looks like the final tests [for launching the SLBM] will be held at around the end of this month,” the source said, adding, “There’s the possibility that [North Korea] will show off the SLBM during the military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Party’s founding.” The phrase “show off” refers to both the inclusion of the weapon in the parade and a test launch.

Some experts have suggested that there are signs that North Korea is making preparations to launch a SLBM from a test stand barge at Sinpo Shipyard. Recently, Joseph Bermudez, a senior fellow for Imagery Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS), published an article in Beyond Parallel arguing that satellite imagery he had analyzed suggested that the country is preparing a SLBM launch at the shipyard.

Launch of North Korea SLBM
A photograph of North Korea’s launch of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, called the Pukguksong-3, in Oct. 2019. / Image: Rodong Sinmun homepage

South Korean military authorities, meanwhile, are “closely watching” North Korea for signs of preparations aimed at launching a SLBM. In a written statement to the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee, Won In-choul, the nominee for chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said North Korea is in the midst of repairing damage from recent typhoons to Sinpo Shipyard and that “shortly after the repairs are complete, there is a chance it will carry out a submarine-launched ballistic missile test.”

Current South Korean defense minister Jung Kyung-doo and South Korean defense minister nominee Suh Wook have both stated that there have been no “special movements” by North Korea’s military or signs of an impending launch of a SLBM in the country. Won’s written comments to the National Assembly, however, were subtly different than these statements, suggesting that South Korea’s military may have found notable “movements” in North Korea over the course of a couple of days.

Last October, North Korea announced the successful launch of the new Pukguksong-3 SLBM while claiming that “the successful new-type SLBM test-firing comes to be of great significance as it ushered in a new phase in containing the outside forces’ threat to the DPRK and further bolstering its military muscle for self-defense.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Lee Sang Yong is editor-in-chief of Daily NK and previously spent a number of years working as one of the publication’s foreign correspondents in China. He can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.