"You're gonna need a bigger boat"
Sinpo-C / GORAE-class SSB NEWCON
South Korea's intelligence agency said 06 May 2020 it had detected activity related to submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs at a North Korean shipyard. The agency reported its findings to a parliamentary committee that met behind closed doors. According to the report, the agency spotted the activity at a shipyard in the eastern city of Sinpo. It involved equipment used in underwater launch tests and a new type of submarine that can carry SLBMs.
North Korea's state media reported in July 2019 that leader Kim Jong Un had inspected a newly-built submarine that would be deployed in the Sea of Japan. Assessing images of the submarine at the time, the South Korean military had said it seemed capable of carrying three SLBMs. In October 2019, North Korea test-fired a Pukguksong-3 SLBM from waters near the eastern city of Wonsan. South Korean newspapers on 07 May 2020 said the new report suggests North Korea is preparing for another underwater test-fire or a submarine launch.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a large newly built submarine, state news agency KCNA reported 23 July 2019. There were two KCNA reports, "Kim Jong Eun, The Supreme Leader Of Korea, Looked Over The Newly Constructed Submarine" and "Kim Jong Eun Took A Look At His Newly Built Submarine". In the first of these articles, it was reported that "The Dear Leader of the Supreme Leader visited the newly built submarine and detailed the operational tactical specifications of the ship and the weapon combat systems. The Dear Leader of the Supreme Leader expressed great satisfaction about the design and construction of the submarine so that it can smoothly carry out the military strategic prayers of our party even in the context of each situation." The second article was nearly the same as the first, and added no details.
Kim "emphasized the need to steadily and reliably increase national defense capability by investing heavily in the development of naval weapons and equipment such as submarines," the KCNA reported. "The Supreme Leader has been informed of all the details of the operational and regular data (of the submarine) and its weapons system," the agency added. KCNA also released three photographs of the site visit, one of which provided a glimpse of the submarine itself. The closeup photo of the Supreme Leader suggests that the old boy is fit as a fiddle.
Some foreign observers suggested that the submarine is a Shinpo-C class ballistic missile submarine which appears to be being built [or in maintenance] at the North's Shimpo shipyard. Such an SLBM-equipped submarine could be used for two or three missile launch tubes. Analysts said the apparent size of the new submarine indicated that it was designed to eventually carry missiles. "We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine — much larger than the existing one that's been well known since 2014," Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the U.S.-based Federation of American Scientists, told Reuters news agency.
The photograph of the submarine released by KCNA is not ideal for analysis of the boat's dimensions, as there is considerable fore-shortening of the boat's hull. Kim Jong Un is reported to be about 1.7 meters tall, though at times he wears special shoes that make him look taller. Using the Supreme Leader for scale, it appears that the height of the submarine hull, from keel to deck, is about 4 meters, more or less, which is presumably also the ship's beam. This is rather less than the estimated 7.7 meter beam of the Sinpo / GORAE submarine that was first detected in 2014, possibly due to the imprecision of this photographic analysis. It is vastly less than the 10 meter diameter attributed to the anticipated new Sinpo-C submarine, a discrepancy too great to write off as imprecise imagery mensuration.
The submarine is bare metal, lacking any anechoic rubberized tiles to deaden active sonar returns and limit noise radiation. Either none are planned, or it is still too early in the construction process for them to be applied. The hull itself is of singularly shoddy construction. In the foreground, partially obscured by a staircase, the hull sheathing gives the appearance of a very thin sheeting applied to an underlying frame. Further aft, the hull is a patchwork of randomly sized sheets of metal, answering to no rhyme or reason as to their shape or size. GlobalSecurity.org's veteran Sovietologist Charles Vick suggests that this patchwork of plates reflects work to get new equipment in place, which is the way the Soviets do it. Cut the plate access hole, place the oversized equipment where needed, then replace the metal frame sheets, weld it, grind it down, paint to match. Vick noted that this sort of design revision is seen all through Soviet naval equipment to this very day.
South Korea's defense ministry determined that the newly constructed North Korean submarine seemed to be capable of carrying three submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Rep. Lee Hye-hoon, chief of the National Assembly Intelligence Committee, told reporters after a closed-door briefing by ministry officials the submarine is ready to be deployed soon. The ministry said the submarine "appears to be slightly larger" than the 2,500-ton Gorae class.
Bill Gertz reported October 28, 2014 that satellite images of a North Korean submarine facility showed what appeared to be a missile tube being developed for a future ballistic missile submarine. The commercial imagery was disclosed in an article published by the group 38 North. The photos showed was appears to be a test stand for a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
“A review of commercial satellite imagery since 2010 covering submarine bases and submarine shipyards has identified a new test stand at the North’s Sinpo South Shipyard, probably intended to explore the possibility of launching ballistic missiles from submarines or of a shipboard vertical launch ballistic missile capability,” wrote Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a North Korea expert with AllSource Analysis, Inc.
North Korea is upgrading its ballistic missile capability, as imagery revealed progress on its dockyards, which will be able to assemble and house bigger, newer submarines. 38 North, a program at the US-Korea Institute at SAIS, which analyzes new information from the secretive county, examined commercial satellite imagery from July 2016, of what it reported is a new construction hall at the Sinpo South Shipyard, on the country’s eastern coast. “The status of work inside the hall remains unclear, but when it is finished North Korea will be able to build and launch new submarines much larger than the existing Gorae-class, including a new class of ballistic missile submarines. Moored alongside the launching way are three small vessels and a barge working to clear underwater obstacles.”
IHS Jane's Defence Weekly reported 23 July 2016 that North Korea was building a fortified structure near the port city of Sinpo that will have what appeared to be two covered docks that could shelter ballistic missile submarines. The new base, located 2.2 kilometers south of the Sinpo shipyard on the east coast, may be the largest active military building project in North Korea at the moment. The report said that commercial satellite imagery shows construction of the base began sometime between August 2009 and November 2012. Sinpo port is where a North Korean submarine with a displacement of two thousand tons was docked.
The North has test-fired submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) from this sub in nearby East Sea waters including a launch on 09 July 2016. US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) systems detected and tracked what was assessed as a North Korean submarine missile launch at 9:28 p.m. CDT, July 8, 2016. The launch of a presumed KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile occurred off the coast of Sinpo. The missile was tracked over the Sea of Japan, where initial indications are it fell. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.
The test ended in failure, with the missile, known as the KN-11, exploding at an altitude of some 10 kilometers after being launched from a submerged 2,000-ton Sinpo-class submarine, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Satellite imagery from 8 May 2016 revealed that construction on the pens had progressed to the extent that portions of them were being covered with earth,” said Jane’s, which also obtained its analysis from commercially-sourced photos. The combined analysis of all the work at Sinpo South, likely begun in 2009, suggests that it is currently “the largest active military building project in North Korea.”
Although North Korea is also conducting regular tests from land-based sites, “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 ballistic missile submarine capability it is currently developing.”
Jane’s suggested that the new docks could make it simpler for submarines to slip into the water unmonitored, creating “uncertainty” and a “deterrent” to opposing forces. If successful, the submarines could reach not only South Korea, but also the West Coast of the United States, before launching their projectiles, which could be armed with nuclear warheads.
By 2016 work on the launching way (i.e., ramp) and construction hall, 360 meters south of the secure boat basin, was externally complete. The status of work inside the hall remained unclear, but when it is finished North Korea would be able to build and launch new submarines much larger than the existing GORAE-class, including a new class of ballistic missile submarines.
Lee Yong-soo reported 05 September 2016 for Chosun Ilbo : "Buoyed by the success of the missile launch, the North is expected to accelerate development of a 3,000-ton submarine capable of carrying three to four missiles. In a briefing on Aug. 31, a defector group called North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity claimed the North's General Bureau of Reconnaissance is developing a nuclear-powered submarine based on a Russian nuclear-submarine blueprint that it has stolen by hacking. The North invited five Russian nuclear-submarine experts in 2013 and has since sped up its own submarine development, the group added. A government official here was skeptical. "The allegation about the hacking of a Russian computer network and theft of a submarine blueprint sounds like a cloak-and-dagger story, but nobody can completely rule it out," he said."
Satellite imagery suggested that North Korea was building a new massive submarine for the purpose of deploying ballistic nuclear missiles as the regime continues its march towards full nuclear strike capability against the growing concern of the international community. "Commercial satellite imagery strongly suggests that a naval construction program is underway at North Korea’s Sinpo South Shipyard, possibly to build a new submarine," the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said 02 October 2016 on its website 38 North.
"If this activity is indeed to build a new submarine, it would appear to be larger than North Korea’s GORAE-class experimental ballistic missile submarine, which has a beam of approximately 7 meters," said the analysts with the US-Korea Institute. The development comes as Pyongyang made advances in its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program far outstripping earlier estimates on the regime’s technical capabilities and bringing down the countdown until North Korea possesses the capability to launch a strike on the West.
The primary evidence is was an approximately 10-meter-in-diameter circular component outside the facility’s recently renovated fabrication hall. The GORAE-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA) has dimensions of approximately 66.7 x 7.7 meters and the ROMEO-class are attack submarines (SS) armed with torpedoes with dimensions of 76.6 x 6.7 meters.
US military intelligence has detected the construction of a new diesel submarine in North Korea's Sinpo shipyard on its east coast. According to Diplomat magazine on 18 October 2017, US intelligence estimated the sub to be a two thousand ton vessel capable of launching a submarine launched ballistic missile, or SLBM. The vessel is the largest the regime has constructed since building its Najin-class frigates.
The U.S. intelligence community believes the new sub will succeed the Gorae-class ballistic missile submarine, the only sub that can launch a Pukguksong-1 SLBM. North Korea has carried out four SLBM ejection tests during the summer of 2017, with the last taking place on 30 July 2017.
US intelligence also believes the regime is currently developing a new SLBM known as the Pukguksong-3, which uses an advanced airframe made of lighter composite materials that would increase the range of the missile.
Amid increasing ballistic missile threats from the North, the U.S. Sixth Fleet test fired one of its most advanced missile interceptors, the Standard Missile-6 off the Scottish coast. US Sixth Fleet released a statement after the test on 15 October 2017 that the SM-6 was launched from an Aegis destroyer and successfully intercepted an incoming ballistic missile.
Raytheon, the missile's manufacturer, said that the SM-6 is the only missile that can be used for both anti-air and anti-surface warfare, meaning that the missile could be used to counter North Korea's nuclear facilities and intercept the regime's ballistic missiles, which continue to develop rapidly.
North Korea is pushing ahead with the construction of its first domestically developed ballistic missile submarine, even though the vessel is expected to be vastly technologically inferior to its rivals in the region and should be relatively easy to track and – should a imminent threat be perceived – neutralize. Despite that huge drawback, the millions that are being invested in the project make perfect geo-political sense to the regime of Kim Jong Un.
Progress on the North Korean project has been detected by images from commercial satellites analyzed by experts at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University and published on the 38 North website. In the most recently available images of the Sinpo South Shipyard, taken earlier in NOvember, the analysts pointed to sections of what appear to be the pressure hull of a submarine alongside construction halls at the yard, which has undergone extensive modernization work in the last 18 months, including the addition of a fabrication plant and a roof to a construction hall alongside a slipway.
The analysts suggest the new vessel will be the first 3,000-ton Sinpo-C class ballistic missile submarine, which is designed to sortie into the Pacific Ocean and remain undetected but able to launch its nuclear-tipped missiles when ordered to do so. Satellite images provide further evidence about the project, including what appears to be a launch canister that may be awaiting fitting into the submarine or may be used for tests.
"And if they go ahead and build three or four of this new class of submarines, then that immediately injects a new element of uncertainty because it makes it more difficult for the US, for South Korea and Japan to constantly monitor all the possible sources of missiles," Garren Mulloy, an associate professor of international relations at Japan's Daito Bunka University added. "To any sane person, this is a monumental waste of money when the economic conditions in North Korea are so bad, but having a nuclear deterrent makes sense to the regime there because they believe it guarantees their survival."
"The US has spent decades making submarines that are so quiet that they cannot be tracked, and I have no doubt that whatever the North Koreans are able to put in the water will not be as advanced or as quiet," he said. "But that doesn't really matter to Pyongyang," he pointed out. "What they are trying to do is to get the other countries around them to come to the negotiating table," he said.
"They are leaving components for a new class of submarine on a dock when they know full well that satellites are going to be passing overhead and photographing everything and anything that is there," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University. said. "That tells me that they are leaving them out there because they want them to be seen. They want to ratchet up the tensions and the pressure to force the US and the other countries to sit down and talk."
Mulloy concurs, but adds that it is possible that the North does not plan to order its submarines to go out into the Pacific and approach the west coast of the United States. "They cannot match the technology of the US, but it is possible that they intend to submerge these missile boats within their 12-mile territorial zone to make them harder to detect but remain within range of South Korea and Japan and US military facilities in both those countries," he said. "The Sea of Japan is relatively shallow and therefore tracking submarines is somewhat easier, but if they are submerged then they will be harder to follow and it will tie up US and other nations' assets to monitor them," he added.
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