Photos show N. Korea making progress on sub program upgrades
By AARON KIDD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 21, 2016
North Korea is making significant progress on a project that will enable it to build more advanced ballistic-missile submarines, a Washington-based think tank says.
Satellite images taken July 14 of North Korea’s Sinpo Shipyard show external construction is complete on both an expanded launch ramp and a large assembly hall that will allow the communist regime to “build and launch new submarines much larger than the existing Gorae-class, including a new class of ballistic missile submarines,” said 38 North, a website run by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies that monitors North Korean activities.
The status of work inside the building remains unclear, the report said.
The images — taken just days after a July 8 announcement that the U.S. and South Korea would deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, on the peninsula — also show evidence of post-test maintenance on the North’s Gorae-class submarine “with a heavy-lift crane and what appears to be a small truck or shipping container present dockside,” 38 North said.
Pyongyang fired a missile from a submarine a day after the THAAD announcement. South Korean officials said the launch failed in the early stages of flight.
Two “mother ships,” used for intelligence agents and special operations troops on infiltration missions against South Korea and Japan, are also visible in the photos, the report said.
Experts have said Pyongyang’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles are not expected to be operational until 2020, but progress on the program is worrisome because the ability to fire missiles from underwater vessels makes them harder to detect and shoot down.
North Korea successfully fired a ballistic missile from a submarine on April 23. Leader Kim Jong Un, who was shown in photos observing the launch, called it an important step in his nuclear weapons program.
The North fired three land-based missiles — two Scuds and a Rodong — on Tuesday in what it said was a rehearsal for attacks against South Korean ports and airports that have U.S. nuclear warheads.