Monday, July 24, 2023

Kim Jong Un's Underground Pyongyang

Verifying the existence of underground facilities can be a difficult task, especially when their existence is a state secret. But rumors eventually come out and tantalizing hints of their presence can sometimes be found.

For North Korea, these rumors tell of secret subway lines beneath Pyongyang and underground highways connecting major palaces, maybe even reaching as far north as the border with China. I have written quite a lot about North Korea's underground infrastructure, but direct evidence and declassified sources still remain scarce. 

Overview of the Pyongyang Government District.

However, within the secured government district of Pyongyang are signs of multiple tunnels and underground structures. While it's impossible to know how they all connect to one another or even if they do, their locations and prevalence do hint at a fairly robust underground network that supports the infrastructure, transportation, and security needs of Pyongyang's most important district.

The easiest way to identify underground facilities is to either spot their entrances or actually catch them being constructed. For the secured government district, most of the buildings were constructed decades ago, placing their secrets out of reach for those without security clearances. But under Kim Jong Un, there have been some substantial changes to the district and that has given North Korea watchers an opportunity to see observe some of them.

There are two main sets of tunnels within the 138-hectare district that are visible to satellite. The first is a set of four tunnels near the Central Committee Office building (also known as Kim Jong Un's office) and the adjacent villa (Residence No. 15). The second is a set of four tunnels leading to underground parking garages beneath three buildings that were constructed in 2018-2019.  

There is also a possible tunnel, marked in light blue, but I can't fully verify that it is a tunnel. In some images, however, it appears that there may be a road tunnel that dives under a gate near Kim Kyong-hui Hall, just south of Changgwangsan House.

But the tunnels around Kim Jong Un's office and Residence No. 15 are quite clear.

April 10, 2020 image of the four tunnels around the Central Committee Building (Kim's office) and his district villa, Residence No. 15.

Apart from the tunnels by the villa and office, which I'll detail next, there is also a smaller tunnel in the maintenance complex. This complex handles building heating and cooling equipment, provides maintenance services, and may also play a role in electricity and water supply to the adjacent buildings. The tunnel (39.016557° 125.743544°) is 5-6 meters wide and runs toward the southwest. It's visible on all satellite imagery going back to 2000.

The tunnel may simply lead to a hardened bunker housing additional equipment or it could actually connect into the Office 39 complex (which includes the Kim Il Sung Revolutionary History Institute [39.016134° 125.741890°] and other Party buildings). Given its size and location, I do not think this tunnel plays any special security role. Rather, it's most likely just an access tunnel for providing building services.

April 1, 2023 image showing changes since 2020.

In 2022 a villa was rebuilt and enlarged, and in late 2022 a new hardened structure was built over the site of the tunnel nearest Kim's office building. 

The 'office tunnel' is large enough for vehicles and may lead to an underground garage or a larger underground complex. The hardened structure above it is approximately 60 by 30 meters in size and rises approximately 3 meters above the surrounding gardens.

Conjectured tunnel layout.

Due to the number of visible entrances, a concept of the tunnel layout can be formed with some confidence despite not having all the information. 

The covered walkway from Residence No. 15 was constructed in 2010. It resembles another such walkway that was built in 2017 in the armed forces district 5 km north at 39.062677° 125.740196°. 

The southern tunnel entrance was also constructed ca. 2010-11. Following the path drawn in the above image, the southern tunnel is about ~150 meters from the northern tunnel at the Central Committee Office Building (CCOB). 

The northern tunnel, however, was only constructed in 2018. This means that the southern tunnel likely went directly to the CCOB, where an alleged 60-car garage also exists beneath the assembly hall. 
This connection allows people from Residence No. 15 to travel on foot or by car directly and safely to the CCOB. Then, in 2018, a new tunnel was built from the CCOB that would link up with the southern tunnel.

This construction also included the building of an underground structure which was later (2022) replaced by the 60 x 30-meter hardened structure now seen in satellite images. Allegedly, a small, electrified rail car is also employed within the tunnels, but I haven't seen any supporting evidence of that.

To the north of the Central Committee Office Building, between 2018 and 2020 four currently unidentified buildings were constructed. These buildings include glass-covered entrances to underground parking garages that, most likely, would also double as bomb shelters in the event of an air attack.

Underground garage entrances under construction in June 2020.

The underground garage entrances after completion are covered by glass canopies.

There are also reports (including from Hwang Jang-yop) that the Pyongyang Metro has a secret line for government use that connects important government and military installations around the capital, and that it even reaches as far as Nampo and Sunchon (50 km away). While this has never been independently verified, the government district does lie within 2 km of four subway stations, with the closest being Pongwa Station at only 600 meters away from Kim's office.

As most of the district was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s (as was the metro), underground entrances to the metro system could be hidden beneath key administrative buildings, beyond the prying eye of today's satellite fleet. I have doubts about a sprawling network of transportation tunnels connecting far flung facilities, but a local network connecting underground command centers and emergency escape routes is quite plausible. 

Location of other known tunnels and underground facilities (UGF).

Whether underground sites exist in isolation or connect to larger tunnel networks beneath the government district and beyond, the sheer number of bomb shelters and other underground facilities alleged to exist makes the possibility of a successful "decapitation strike" by South Korea or the United States far more difficult and less likely to be effective, as such an attack relies on knowing where the target individuals are and killing them before they have time to escape to another location.

While I can't comment as to the quality of their construction, as a regime hyper-focused on survivability, North Korea probably has the greatest density of underground facilities and secret tunnels of any country on earth. 

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters who help make all of this possible: Alex Kleinman, Amanda Oh, Donald Pierce, Dylan D, Joe Bishop-Henchman, Jonathan J, Joel Parish, John Pike, JuneBug, Kbechs87, Nate Odenkirk, Russ Johnson, and Squadfan.

--Jacob Bogle, July 24, 2023

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