WASHINGTON • Satellite images taken this month of a North Korean naval shipyard indicate that Pyongyang is pursuing an “aggressive schedule” to build its first operational ballistic missile submarine, a US institute has reported.
Washington-based 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project, cited images taken on Nov 5 showing activity at North Korea’s Sinpo South Shipyard.
“The presence of what appear to be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull in the yards suggests construction of a new submarine, possibly the Sinpo-C ballistic missile submarine – the follow-on to the current Sinpo-class experimental ballistic missile submarine,” 38 North said in a report on Thursday.
The report said that throughout this year, there had been continued movement of parts and components into and out of two parts yards adjacent to the construction halls in the centre of the shipyard.
It said the Nov 5 images showed two large circular objects that could be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull. It said these appeared larger than those for North Korea’s Romeo-class attack submarine.
Images of a test stand indicated continued testing of a mechanism for ejection launch of missiles from a submarine. However, the report said no activity could be seen suggesting preparations for a new test of a submarine-launched missile.
North Korea has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States, sparking a major international crisis in which US President Donald Trump has said all options are under consideration, including military ones.
An official from South Korea’s top spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, told lawmakers on Thursday that North Korea has not secured the key technologies needed to build a ballistic missile that can survive a return through the atmosphere, the Yonhap news agency reported yesterday, citing a “parliamentary source”. Building a vehicle that can protect warheads from the heat and stress of a return flight – or re-entry capability – is critical for developing functional intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
In July, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared he could strike the entire continental US after test-firing the regime’s second ICBM within a month – a claim disputed by American officials.
Representatives from South Korea and the US agreed yesterday to keep working for a peaceful end to the North Korean nuclear crisis, but a US envoy said it was difficult to gauge the reclusive North’s intentions as there has been “no signal”.
Meanwhile, China was dispatching a special envoy, Mr Song Tao, to North Korea yesterday. This came a week after Beijing played host to Mr Trump, who has called on Beijing to use its leverage as North Korea’s top economic backer to pressure Mr Kim into giving up his quest for a nuclear weapon.
Yonhap, citing unidentified diplomats in Beijing, said there was a good chance that Mr Song would meet Mr Kim tomorrow.
The North Korean leader is said to rarely meet senior foreign visitors.
North Korea has conducted dozens of missile tests this year, and its largest and biggest nuclear test was on Sept 3. It has not tested a missile since firing one over Japan on Sept 15.
But Mr Han Tae Song, North Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations, yesterday brushed off the US threat.
“The DPRK, my country, will continue to build up its self-defence capability, the pivot of which is nuclear forces and capability for a triumphant... strike, as long as US and hostile forces keep up (the) nuclear threat and blackmail,” he said.