Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Rockets and Runways

Kim Jong Un observing the Sept. 15, 2017 launch of a Hwasong-12 ICBM at the Pyongyang-Sunan International Airport. (Source: KCNA)

Kim Jong Un is well on his way to becoming the most prolific builder since his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. There are the new roads, the billions spent on construction projects in Pyongyang and in other major cities, modernizing airports and constructing new ones, and much more. Kim Jong Un has been busy as he enters his seventh year in power.

Those further changes to North Korea's military airbases and other runways, as well as the stunning advancement of their ballistic missile program makes it necessary for me to write, once more, about the ever-progressing nature of North Korea's military. There are three main areas of focus for this post. The first is the construction of multiple new aircraft parking revetments at new and older emergency runways. The second is the construction of more emergency runways. And the third deals with the possibility of the merging of North Korea's major airbases and ICBM program.

North Korea has 111 airports, airbases, heliports, emergency highway runways, and other landing strips. Particularly since 2016, nearly all of their emergency highway runways (straight sections of road that have been widened for use by aircraft in the event of a war) have had aircraft parking revetments constructed to augment each site. Additional basic runways have also had revetments constructed. In all, 15 airfields have had new revetments constructed. The number of revetments varies between one and four (most have three), but there is a grand total of 39 individual revetments which could support a combined 75 aircraft (at least) depending on type and parking arrangement.

It's important to note that not all of the satellite imagery of all of the different air facilities in North Korea has been updated to include either 2016 or 2017 imagery, so it's possible there are other sites that have had revetments constructed. I just can't yet see them.

Here are some examples of these sites. Click on any image to see an enlarged view.

Since my 2015 article on the North Korean Air Force and the changes that have happened under Kim Jong Un to the physical infrastructure of the Air Force and general aviation, at least three additional runways have been constructed.

Changdo, Kangwon Province (38.67993°, 127.72681°)

This runway is also approx. 3 miles (4.8 km) north of a military training base that underwent fairly substantial expansion in 2013.

Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province (41.80234°, 129.85480°)

This small auxiliary runway was constructed in early 2016.

Sunchon, South Pyongan Province (39.44058°, 126.03576°)

This runway is being constructed across from the large Sunchon Cement Factory. Curtis Melvin at North Korean Economy Watch believes that this will be a new 'executive' runway for use by Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials. What makes it odd, in my mind, is the fact there are two large military airbases (and a helicopter base) within 12 miles (19 km) of this new runway - after all Sunchon is an important industrial city.
Perhaps the 30 minute drive was a bit too much for the Supreme Leader.

North Korea has a history of testing missiles from their airports, particularly at Wonsan (Kalama) and Pyongyang International. During the modernization and expansion of Wonsan, an observation facility was constructed as well as two concrete launch pads on the beach. And as you can see in the opening image of this article, Kim Jong Un observed the test of a Hwasong-12 ICBM from Pyongyang International. But unlike Wonsan, the Pyongyang launch was carried out on the bare ground.

Along the line of launch pads, there has been a curious development at 19 of North Korea's major air facilities. Starting in 2015 and extending into 2016 (such a busy year), twin squares of concrete began to pop up at these airbases. Unlike the small launch pads seen at Wonsan or other sites, which are approx. 60 x 80 feet (18 x 24 meters), these new pads are each roughly 165 x 140 feet (50 x 43 meters). All but two airbases have two of these pads, one at each end and directly in line with the runway's path, but not connected to it. The other two just have a single pad. Most are made of concrete, but a few are simply areas of cleared land and compacted dirt.

My initial thought was that these were helipads, but they're much larger than most helipads in the country. Additionally, these are military bases and space already exists for helicopters. Furthermore, Pukchang Airbase (near Sunchon) has an adjacent helibase with dozens of helicopters stationed there, yet the main airbase also has these new pads. Use of these sites for helicopters is also lessened because the pads aren't directly connected to the runway and are separated from them by around 170 feet (51 m).

I am not an aviation expert, but I have explored the globe via Google Earth (and been to a few airports) and I have yet to see this layout anywhere else. My second thought then became, what if these are actually meant to allow rapid deployment of various missile systems? (Their size would accommodate everything in North Korea's arsenal.) I have asked for the input of others but wasn't able to get much more than "that's plausible", with no other firm alternative explanations. So perhaps North Korea now has 36 new ICBM launching sites, or maybe it's something else entirely. The fact these things popped up across the country, basically overnight, are fairly uniform in size, and are only located at major military sites, impels me to at least bring attention to them.

These two images shows the pad area at Kaechon Airbase before and after construction.

This next set of images is just a sample of different bases with the pads.

Here is the list of coordinates for each of the airbases with these pads.
Changjin: 40.36680°, 127.26304°
Hwangju: 38.65468°, 125.78629°
Hyon-ni: 38.61354°, 127.45410°
Iwon: 40.36044°, 128.71995°
Kaechon: 39.76226°, 125.91326°  (only has one pad)
Koksan: 38.68810°, 126.60147°
Kuum-ni: 38.86713°, 127.90625°
Kwail: 38.42360°, 125.02213°
Nuchon-ni: 38.23767°, 126.11891°
Onchon: 38.90914°, 125.23311°
Orang: 41.43005°, 129.64906°
Panghyon: 39.92883°, 125.20714° (Panghyon is near the site of the July 4, 2017 ICBM test)
Pukchang: 39.50491°, 125.96567°
Sondok: 39.75929°, 127.47621° (only has one pad)
Sunchon: 39.41134°, 125.89543°
Taetan: 38.13016°, 125.24616°
Toksan: 39.98743°, 127.60276°
Uiju: 40.15111°, 124.49965°

My ego isn't so fragile that I can't handle correction. If you think (or know) I have misidentified these sites or can offer a plausible alternative, please let me know!

--Jacob Bogle, 1/30/2018

Thursday, January 18, 2018

North Korea's Great Barrier

I first wrote about North Korea's caged population in 2013, where I showed the fences that surround the country. Since then, I have been able to map the full system of fences, guard posts, and gates. And since the general situation regarding population movement has changed since then as well, I want to revisit the topic and also provide you with the Google Earth file so you, too, can explore the miles of fences and blocked off beaches, as well as to provide added evidence of the horrific human rights situation that exists. If you're primarily interested in getting the KMZ file, click here.

Guards maintaining a section of border fence along the Yalu River. (Source

First, a quick refresher. Much of North Korea's coastline and land borders are fenced off. According to multiple defector and media reports, some portions of fence are electrified while others are simply guarded by police. Of course the southern border (aka, the Demilitarized Zone/DMZ) has been turned into, perhaps, the most impenetrable 820,210 feet (155 miles) of border in the world. Ever. Apart from the hundreds of thousands of troops stationed along the DMZ, it has over 1,000 observation towers and forward military posts. Finally, the border with China (and the small section with Russia) is protected by large reservoirs, rivers, and in many places, fencing as well.
The purpose of these barriers is to keep people inside the country. Construction was sped up during the famine as the regime tried to cope with the mass movements of people, risks of defectors stealing boats, and as the government struggled to maintain their control in all sectors of society.

All of this means North Korea's population really is caged. A more colorful description of the country would be as an open-air prison.

The following images show the extent of the national fence system. Click on images for an enlarged view.

I was able to map nearly 1,400 miles (1,399.36 to be exact) of fencing. There are lots of small coastline sections where the paths of fencing can still be seen, but the fence itself is gone - likely pillaged for scrap metal by locals, however, most of the gaps you can see (and all of the large ones) are due to either natural barriers or where direct access to the sea/border is blocked by an industrial site, military base, or other construction that itself serves as a barrier.

Many coastal towns and villages lack a fence and instead the coastal portion is lined with dockyards and factories which requires locals to go through any number of gates or checkpoints, if they're permitted through at all. I've tried to map as many gate houses as possible that provide direct access to the coast. Ones that simply allow access to a factory or other site adjacent to the sea are not marked.

This next image shows the reason for each of  the major gaps in the fence system.

This image shows 837 identifiable police border guard posts and 434 stand-alone watchtowers along the the DMZ.

Under Kim Jong Un, miles of new fencing have been erected as well as older fencing upgraded in certain areas. A large number of additional watchtowers have been added along the fence routes as well, particularly in the northern regions. However, border controls extend well beyond fences and watchtowers. Cell phone single jamming towers, cameras, and other surveillance equipment have been deployed along both borders, but efforts have particularly increased along the Chinese border (which is the route most defectors take).

A related issue is the increased border protections China has been implementing. As with North Korea, China has begun to build fences (of a far greater quality than the DPRK) along certain key border sections to stem the flow of defectors. They have also constructed signal jamming towers and increased police and military patrols. China's active attempts to catch defectors by checking train stations, setting up road blocks, and patrolling neighborhoods, occur not only in the immediate border region, but far into the interior in major cities like Jilin.

The following series of images clearly show the individual fence posts and come from different parts of North Korea. Additional images can also be found in the original 2013 post, A Caged Population.

As both Kim Jong Un and China have taken a much harder line regarding border security, there has been a real and measurable effect on the numbers of successful defections. In 2017 there were 1,127 defectors who made it to South Korea, which is a decline of 27% from 2016. That was the lowest figure since 2001. The total number of defectors peaked around 3,000 in 2009, meaning there has been a decline of ~62% overall.

Despite the barbed wire fences, guards with automatic weapons, the high risk of women being sold into sexual slavery, and the risks of repatriation and imprisonment (or execution), people still brave the cold waters of the Yalu River and the forests of northern China to find their way to a better life. Even soldiers posted along the DMZ, who tend to belong to elite families and are generally more well off than soldiers stationed elsewhere, accept getting shot at 40 times (or even kill other DPRK soldiers) to cross into South Korea.

Kim Jong Un may have been successful in curbing overall defections, but the drive to feed one's family and the desire to experience the freedoms of the outside world (that North Koreans are increasingly being exposed to) will continue to inspire and embolden people to take the risks and seek a better life.

To download the full KMZ file and explore the sites yourself, click here. (Must have Google Earth to access.)

--Jacob Bogle, 1/18/2018

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

AccessDPRK 2018 Update

2017 was an incredibly busy and important year for all things North Korea. From the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the unprecedented number of nuclear and missile tests, and even to the large construction projects that were seen in Pyongyang, last year certainly kept analysts and watchers chugging the coffee. Last year was also a big year #AccessDPRK: web traffic was more than double that of last year (for which I thank my readers very much!), I had the opportunity to give multiple radio interviews on different DPRK topics, social media presence grew, and most importantly, I was able to release the completed version of a very big map.
I intend 2018 to be a busy and big year, too. Let me tell you what I've been working on and about some future plans for this new year.

I published Phase I of the #AccessDPRK Mapping Project in March 2016 and Phase II was published a year later, in March 2017. Phase II became the largest and most comprehensive map of North Korea ever made public with over 53,000 locations mapped; far surpassing any previous public work. In the time since the initial publication, I have continued to highlight important and interesting finds via this blog and social media. I have also been working on the "topic specific" files that I mentioned in the Phase II release post. At the same time, I have continued work on keeping the main project up-to-date and have added scores of new sites of all types: military, monuments, and domestic.

It wouldn't quite be accurate to call this beginning a "Phase III", but I want everyone to know that I am certainly not finished with this undertaking and a true Phase III will be forthcoming at some future point. Over the course of this process I will be re-categorizing hundreds of "compounds" to reflect the greater importance they may now hold, I will be working to resolve a long-standing issue in identifying many interior HARTS locations (are they artillery sites or simply tunnels?), I will keep marking places that were inadvertently missed the first time around (like a monument or irrigation pumping station), and of course work on the topic specific files will continue.

Additionally, it's important to realize that all of the articles on this site are part of the broader #AccessDPRK project and are meant to enhance the work by giving it greater depth. There are a number of articles that I am currently drafting, and I have begun to use a range of new resources which will allow me to use more recent satellite images in a number of cases. That means I can provide you with better information and occasionally even help break some news.

Considering all of these things and the amount of time and effort it requires (I am just an individual and not backed by any organization), I am also thinking about setting up a Patreon (or similar) account to enable those who appreciate and enjoy what I produce to take part and assist. I'll have more on that later.

So I am looking forward to this new year and anticipate North Korea will provide us with ever more things to talk about and analyze. I appreciate your continued interest and all of the emails, comments, and interactions on social media. If you haven't already, please follow me on Twitter @JacobBogle and you can add me on Facebook, too. If you'd like to email me, the address is jacob_bogle@yahoo.com. I'm always open to suggestions on what topics to cover.

Finally, here's a small New Year's Bonus. (As always, click on the image for an enlarged version.)

A small military training base was recently constructed, and it is one of several to be built over the last few years.

Located 7.8 miles (12.6 km) east-northeast of Sariwon, N. Hwanghae, it is situated in a valley that also holds multiple other small military sites like tunnels and munitions/equipment storage depots. The location of the base is marked with a star icon and labeled, and all of the small yellow markers are the numerous other military sites in the region.

This next image shows the immediate area surrounding the training site. The several storage sites and tunnel group have also been marked out.

This is a 2014 image of the area, before the training facilities were constructed. Based on satellite data, the facilities were constructed between October 2016 and April 2017. I'm using a 2014 beforehand image because it's the best looking image showing the area.

In the latest satellite image, a number of changes to the old base can be seen. An assembly/parade ground has been established, new barracks constructed alongside the old observation hut, a small training site for fighting in trenches was set up, the water course has been updated, and a vehicle training course has been constructed.

Here is an enlarged version to make some of the details more visible. (Click on image for larger view.)

--Jacob Bogle, 1/3/2018