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Sharp Focus: A Unique View of the Sinpo Shipyard
Special Contribution
By Joseph Bermudez & Victor Cha
Kim Jong-Un on Submarine — North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un stands on the conning tower of a submarine during his inspection of the Korean People's submarines operating at the East Sea off Sinpo South Shipyard in North Hamgyeong Province, where the North is believed to have conducted the test-fires of the strategic SLBM (submarine launched ballistic missile). The Sinpo Shipyard has been used for maintaining, repairing, and scrapping its submarines. North Korea is now operating a total 70 of submarines. This undated file photo was released by the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Key Findings

•The Sinpo Shipyard is the counterpart to the Sinpo South Shipyard and focuses primarily on the production, maintenance, and repair of small fishing vessels. To a lesser degree, it has also been involved in the production, maintenance, and repair of small Korean Peoples’ Navy combatants.

•Since about 2009, the graving dock at the shipyard – one of the largest in North Korea – has played a crucial role in maintaining the operational status, repair, maintenance, and scrapping of the nation’s submarine force.

•This is the third of several reports providing a unique view of the Sinpo South Shipyard, Sinpo area, and Mayang-do navy facilities using a unique high off-nadir (HON) image collected by Maxar Technologies during April 2021.

As with our recent Sharp Focus high off-nadir (HON) reports of the Sinpo South Shipyard and Mayang-do Submarine Base, the same April 21, 2021 Maxar Technologies image provides a unique look at the Sinpo Shipyard. While a majority of satellite imagery is collected at 0 degree to 35 degree off-nadir, the April 21 image was collected at 49.6 degree off-nadir — placing the Worldview 2 satellite approximately 780 kilometers away over the Yellow Sea. This image presents a view that an individual would have if they were looking at the facility out the window of an airliner showing the sides of buildings and objects and providing a sense of relative height.

The Sinpo Shipyard was built during the late 1950s and early 1960s on the site of a small port that was present since at least the 1940s. During the 1960s-1980s, it was expanded and became involved in the low-level production and repair of small combatants for the Korean Peoples’ Navy (KPN) and small fishing vessels. Following the death of Kim Il-Sung in 1994 and the subsequent period of repeated drought, famine, and economic collapse (known collectively as the Arduous March), vessel production declined to a halt and the shipyard focused on repair of fishing vessels and a few small KPN combatants. By the late 1990s, activity began to rise slowly, and construction of one of the largest graving docks in North Korea began. During the years that followed, repair and minor civilian construction activity on open ways resumed. By 2009, construction of the graving dock was finished and has since been used for the maintenance, repair, and scrapping of KPN ROMEO class submarines (SS), combatants, and fishing vessels.

Tha above writer, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., is an internationally recognized analyst, award-winning author, and lecturer on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs and ballistic missile development in developing countries. He is concurrently senior fellow for Imagery Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS); senior adviser and imagery analyst for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK); author for IHS Markit (formerly the Jane’s Information Group); and publisher and editor of KPA Journal. Formerly, he has served as founder and CEO of KPA Associates, LLC, senior imagery analyst for 38 North at Johns Hopkins SAIS, chief analytics officer and co-founder of AllSource Analysis, Inc., and senior all-source analyst for DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center.

The co-writer, Victor Cha, is senior vice president and the inaugural holder of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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