Sil-li missile facility
A Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said North Korea appeared to be building facilities that can be used to assemble ballistic missiles near the capital, Pyongyang. On 05 May 2020, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published the results of an analysis on a construction site near Pyongyang International Airport. CSIS said the previously undisclosed facility "is nearing completion" and "is almost certainly related to North Korea's expanding ballistic missiles program".
The CSIS report, based on analysis of satellite imagery, said the facility was located approximately 17 kilometers (11 miles) northwest of the country's capital, Pyongyang. Notable features include a large underground structure, an unusually large covered rail terminal and interconnected buildings designed for drive-through access. Pictures show three new buildings. The largest one is about 120 meters wide and 40 meters in depth. They all have bay doors, wide enough for large vehicles. The center says one of the buildings may be able to accommodate an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Like other North Korean missile facilities, this site also has what appears to be a rail terminal and access to an underground section. The think tank suspects the facilities can be used to assemble ballistic missiles from components delivered by rail as well as for storage. It says at the current pace of construction, the site could be operational sometime during late 2020 or early 2021.
One of experts involved in the study told NHK that the width and height of buildings have distinctive features. The expert says it will probably be one of the newest missile facilities in North Korea. With almost two years since the first-ever US-North Korean summit, denuclearization talks remain at standstill. Experts in the United States have frequently raised suspicion that Pyongyang has not given up its nuclear development ambitions.
CSIS said the Sil-li facility has been under construction since 2016 and measures approximately 442,300 square metres (4.76 million square feet). "A high-bay building within the facility is large enough to accommodate an elevated Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile and, therefore, the entirety of North Korea's known ballistic missile variants," the report said. "The facility has been constructed next to an underground facility whose likely size is also large enough to easily accommodate all known North Korean ballistic missiles and their associated launchers and support vehicles." The buildings are connected by a wide surfaced-road network that could accommodate large trucks and ballistic missile launchers.
It also was built near an underground facility large enough to fit all known North Korean missiles, including launchers and support vehicles. “Taken as a whole, these characteristics suggest that this facility is likely designed to support ballistic missile operations,” the report said.
Published reports offer several explanations of this facility. “As such, it is another component of the North Korean ballistic missile infrastructure that has been undergoing both modernization and expansion during the past 10 years,” it added. The images likely confirm that North Korea has continued to “develop and expand its ballistic missile infrastructure,” according to CSIS’ senior imagery analyst Joseph Bermudez, who wrote the report. “There has been no slow down at all that we can detect at present,” Bermudez told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday.
"It is part of North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile structure and it needs to be addressed at any future North Korean and US discussions,” he added. “What it does however is to bring this to the public light to discuss the issue in a more informed manner, it helps citizens of South Korea influence South Korean policy [toward North Korea], and it does the same thing here in the United States, [and in] Japan, Russia, and China,” he said. “To inform the public on the characteristics of North Korean ballistic missile threats is important, because the public influence the policy, and the policy ultimately influence the diplomatic development between the world and North Korea,” he added.
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reported the commercial satellite imagery showed that buildings near Pyongyang International Airport has “the capacity” to store North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which experts believe are capable of reaching the United States. This explanation is not entirely satisfactory, as it does not address the question of why these particular buildings are at this specific location.
The imagery confirms that North Korea has continued to “develop and expand its ballistic missile infrastructure,” according to CSIS’ senior imagery analyst Joseph Bermudez. “What it does ... is to bring this to the public light to discuss the issue in a more informed manner, it helps citizens of South Korea influence South Korean policy [toward North Korea], and it does the same thing here in the United States, [and in] Japan, Russia, and China,” he said. “To inform the public on the characteristics of North Korean ballistic missile threats is important, because the public influence the policy, and the policy ultimately influence the diplomatic development between the world and North Korea,” he added.
A South Korean expert told RFA that while the site indicates that North Korea has not stopped its missile infrastructure development efforts, the facility serves to defend only the Pyongyang Airport. Park Young-ho, the Director of the Peace Research Institute Seoul, “Since the facility is located near Pyongyang Sunan Airport, it can be seen as a missile base to defend the Sunan Airport in the event of military crisis,” said.
Although this explation answers the questions of why these particular buildings are at this specific location, the idea that long range ballistic missiles would be used to defend an airport is entirely implausible.
The trees make more sense once the forest is identified. North Korea began producing missiles for Iran during the Imposed War in the 1980s, and now the relationship between the missile programs of the two countries is quite intimate.
- The Sil-li complex has two new housing complexes when only one is needed. Teh larger facility, labeled "East" by CSIS, is adjacent to a smaller pre-existing housing complex, and probably constitutes housing for Korean personnel working at this facility. The somewhat smaller complex, labeled "West" by CSIS, is probably housing for Iranian nationals assigned to the facility. Although artibrary esthetic choice cannot be completely excluded, assuming that form follows function, there is plenty of un-used land that could have been occupited by one big housing facility, rather than two. This strongly suggests that some combination of factors favored separate but equal housing for Korean and Iranian personnel. Possibly it was something simple like culinary conflicts, but it is easy to imagine that security staffs on both sides regarded free time socializing as a threat to good order and discipline, and a dangerous opportunity for recruitment by the other side.
- The Sil-li complex has a direct roadway and taxiway connection to the Pyongyang Airport. A nicely construted wide roadway leads about two kilometers to the north to an aircraft parking area, which in Google Earth imagery was home to four Il-76 cargo transports and a single Il-62 passenger plane. Further north there are two hangar and support building complexes with separate taxiway access to the runway [but not to each other]. Strangely, the official airport website helpfully annotates the larger southern complex as "Restricted R&D military [sic] area" while the smaller northern area is labeled "Missile launcher area". Presumably missiles and associated equipment are loaded and unloaded in the hangar in the smaller northern "Missile launcher area".
The Sil-li complex appears to be the gateway between the missile programs of North Korea and Iran. What began in the 1980s as a one-way flow of Scuds from the DPRK to Iran has become a mutually beneficial two-way flow, in which missiles built or tested in one country are transferred to the other.
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