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Continued Expansion and Upgrade Work at Sunchon Airbase
By Victor Cha
CSIS Korea Chair
Overview of Sunchon Airbase, North Korea on July 5, 2022
Key Findings

•Recently acquired satellite imagery shows North Korea is making slow but steady progress with its renovation and expansion project at the Sunchon Airbase.

•The base is home to North Korean Air and Air Defense Force (KPAF) Unit #1017, consisting of an air regiment equipped with MiG-29B/SE/UB fighters (55th Air Regiment) and an air regiment equipped with Su-25K/UBK ground attack aircraft.

•Despite the age of these aircraft, they represent the KPAF’s best air defense and ground attack capabilities.

•When completed, the renovation and expansion project at the Sunchon Airbase will provide a safer operating environment, additional parking space for aircraft, greater run-out for landing aircraft, accommodation for more heavily loaded or larger aircraft, and the potential for generating greater sortie rates.

Overview of Sunchon Airbase, July 5, 2022

Satellite imagery collected on July 5, 2022, provides an opportunity to update the status of the major renovation and expansion project of the North Korean Air and Air Defense Force’s (KPAF) Sunchon Airbase that began in April 2021.

As described in our report from 2021, the Sunchon Airbase (39.412031, 125.89069) is located in Pyongan-namdo (South Pyongan Province) and serves as the home base for KPAF Unit #1017, consisting of an air regiment equipped with MiG-29B/SE/UB fighters (55th Air Regiment) and an air regiment equipped with Su-25K/UBK ground attack aircraft—subordinate to 1st Air Combat Division KPAF.1 Despite the age of these aircraft, they represent the KPAF’s best air defense and ground attack capabilities.

The existing main runway, taxiways, and hardstand have been torn up in the past year. The main runway has been replaced by a new one that has wider shoulders and is extended by approximately 300-meters (bringing the total length to 2,800 meters). It can accommodate more heavily ladened or larger aircraft. Of the three original hardstands:

•the one along the northern end of the main runway has been replaced;

•part of the operational hardstand at the southern end of the main runway has been removed to make way for the main runway extension and replaced by one separate but parallel to the main runway;

•and the one in the southeast corner has been expanded with aircraft shelters but remains to be paved.

Additionally, a fourth new hardstand with what appears to be the start of construction of aircraft shelters is being built on the northeast corner. These shelters’ size, shape, and layout appear similar to those present at Kalma International Airport (Wonsan Airbase). The taxiways have not yet been repaved; however, it appears that this will take place after the construction of the hardstands is completed. In addition to these changes, an improvement to and minor rerouting of drainage around the airbase is also noted.

The northern end of the runway showing the new main runway and ongoing work on the taxiways, July 5, 2022.

A view of the new parking apron about to receive aircraft shelters and the unfinished taxiways, July 5, 2022.

The rebuilt parking apron in the southeast corner of the airbase shows the walls for new aircraft shelters, July 5, 2022

The southern end of the runway showing the new main runway extension, parking apron, and construction equipment on the unfinished taxiway, July 5, 2022.

There are a number of unidentified objects in front of the large underground facility (aircraft hangar) under the hill mass at the center of the airbase. It is unclear what, if anything, has been done within the underground facility.

A view of the entrances to the underground facility (aircraft shelter) at the center of the airbase. A collection of unidentified objects is located on the access road leading to the southern entrance, July 5, 2022.

At present, no markings (e.g., threshold, touchdown zone, etc.) have been applied to the runway, and the satellite imagery shows no evidence of the installation of approach lighting, runway edge lights, or an instrument landing system (ILS).

While it would generally be accepted that the units previously based here would return when the renovation and expansion project is complete, this cannot be determined at this time.

When completed, the renovation and expansion project at the Sunchon Airbase will provide a safer operating environment, additional parking space for aircraft, greater run-out for landing aircraft, accommodation for more heavily loaded or larger aircraft, and the potential for greater sortie rates.

The above story was written by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Victor Cha and Jennifer Jun.

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.

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

Jennifer Jun is a program coordinator and research assistant with the iDeas Lab and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.



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Dr. Victor Cha is Korea Chair of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). He earned his MA from Oxford, and Ph.D. from Columbia. Many books he authored include the award-winning author of "Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle." As prolific writers of articles on int'l relations in such journals as Foreign Affairs and The Washington Quarterly, he also interacts frequently with CNN, NYT, and Washington Post as well as Korean media.

 

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