Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ryongsong Palace Fortress

Located in Pyongyang, the Ryongsong Residence (also called Residence No. 55) is the primary family compound for Kim Jong Un and family.

Security is always tight at the various palaces and villas across the country that the Kim family uses, however, Ryongsong takes security to an entirely different level. More than just some pleasure palace with horses, ponds, and massive dining halls, Ryongsong is a keystone in protecting the heirs of Kim Il Sung. Not only is it surrounded by densely wooded hills, fences, walls, and comes with an enormous security detachment, it actually sits at the very heart of the capital's air defenses. It may be the most well-guarded residential compound in the world.

Initially constructed by Kim Il Sung in 1983, the compound has undergone many changes over the years and has helped keep the Kim family protected and in power despite rumored assassination attempts and amidst millions of starving people during the famine.

The primary compound is approximately 11.3 sq. km. (4.37 sq. mi. or 2,800 acres) There are other smaller annexes that directly abut the main facility, but they are for security, maintenance, staff housing, buffer zones, etc. The addition of these annexes brings the total area of the compound to 12.9 sq. km (5 sq. mi. or 3,200 acres).

Getting inside the compound can only be done through two direct routes, a special train station and a single access point from a highway. All other entrances into the primary compound must go through one of the annexes or other circuitous routes which prevents random wanderers from finding their way to a check point and prevents anyone from using a vehicle to try and bash their way in directly. It's simply not possible.

The main entrance is located 680 meters away from the highway, allowing security to observe oncoming vehicles. The entrance itself is consists of two thin roads parallel to each other that make their way through layers of electrified fencing and a series of walls and ditches so steep and wide that they could stop tanks. The entrance site is flanked on both sides by wooded hills providing further protection.

Further inside (about 740 meters), another ditch and fence system surround large parts of the compound. Traffic on the roads may move freely over it, but any large-scale intrusion would be forced to use those roads which would serve as a choke point and allow security to destroy whatever was coming. This internal set of fencing serves as the main encircling layer of protection. Every so often are observation posts and even machine gun emplacements.

From there, roughly 1.6 km along the road, is the primary residential compound. It has its own set of fencing, entrance gates, and other security features.

The various fences within the main residential area.

Close-up of Kim Jong Un's palace security.

Beyond the physical barriers that wrap the family in a cocoon of safety, are the guards themselves. The Supreme Guard Command (also known as the Escort Bureau) is an elite security unit of upwards of 120,000 soldiers that are tasked with protecting Kim Jong Un, his family, and any other elites he would designate. Kim Jong Un has his own personal security detail of unknown size, however Kim Jong Il's numbered some 200 personnel. Outside of that immediate pocket of protection, the Guard mans the numerous security posts and machine gun nests of Ryongsong. They are also responsible for security at all of the other palaces and assist in keeping the leadership train and elite aircraft secured, in conjunction with other special units.

By comparison, the US Secret Service has around 7,000 employees, but they're split between their duel objectives of presidential protection and fighting counterfeiting. That isn't to say anything of their amazing capabilities, but the Secret Service is greatly dwarfed in numbers.

The geography of the Ryongsong area helps protect the palace from ground attacks and the multiple, nested check points make storming Kim's personal villa practically impossible. That leaves the open skies...which aren't really all that open.

In terms of air defense, Pyongyang's airspace is probably the most well defended in history. Their weaponry may be aging but the city is still surrounded by ring after ring of air defense sites. The capital region has 19 surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites and around 400-500 anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries that are arrayed into three main rings.

SAM coverage area (outermost two rings) is approximate and based on the S-125 (SA-3) system. The other four rings are based on a range of 4 miles for the AAAs (this is for simplicity as North Korea employs a mix of systems). The fourth AAA ring (yellow) is the dedicated palace air defense ring, with Ryongsong (in blue) in the middle. This simplified view was created based off of key "anchor points" and is for illustrative purposes only.

While these sites are supposed to be about protecting the capital and its 2.5 million residents, when you observe the air defense system in its entirety, you find that there is a fourth ring of AAA batteries aligned specifically for the palace, and that Ryongsong is actually within the coverage area of the entire system. Between SAMs and AAAs, Ryongsong sits at the heart of a total of six defensive rings. The complex is, indeed, the most well defended residence on the planet.

Kim's security and the reach of Ryongsong extend beyond its fences. The leadership train station at the palace connects to 20 others across the country, providing Kim with a secure and rapid way to escape to other palaces or even to an underground rail complex in N. Pyongan Province. Several other palaces are rumored to be connected to each other via tunnel as well. Ryongsong is also within six miles of an airfield and a dedicated, hardened heliport that could spirit Kim to other areas or even out of the country if needed.

North Korean ideology and law place Kim Jong Un at the head of the Korean Workers' Party, the state, and military. Underscoring that point, state media released a statement regarding the execution of Kim's uncle, Jang Sung-taek, that said, "No matter how much water flows under the bridge and no matter how frequently a generation is replaced by new one, the lineage of Paektu [Kim Il Sung] will remain unchanged and irreplaceable.
Our party, state, army and people do not know anyone except Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un."

The efforts put into Ryongsong and the protection of the Kim family embodies that reality.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Kbechs87, GreatPoppo, and Planefag.

--Jacob Bogle, 11/27/2019

Monday, November 11, 2019

Mystery at the National Defense University

Pyongyang's National Defense University (recently renamed the Kim Jong Un National Defense University) lies to the north of downtown Pyongyang in an area full of military and secret security schools and training centers. The NDU is located next to the Second Academy of Natural Science (which goes by several other names) as well as near the Kim Jong Il People's Security University.

The NDU has undergone several changes since Kim Jong Un's rise to power but one that hasn't received much attention is a small addition constructed in 2014. It was noted in the AccessDPRK Phase II map release in 2017, but I didn't know much about it and it lay forgotten until now.

The area in question is a small, tunnel-like structure or bunker that was set into the side of a hill. It also has an opening in the roof of the structure. 

Initial excavation work began in 2013 but the structure wasn't constructed until 2014. In Sept. 2014, apparent damage to the roof of the nearby white building was also observed. There has been a building on that site since at least 2000, however, it was reconstructed in late 2013.
To my eyes, the damage looks like there was a small explosion of some kind that blew through the roof. 

Since then, another building was constructed nearby in 2016 and an existing building was demolished in 2017. Additionally, during 2014, roughly 245 meters to the north-northeast of the bunker, a small structure was built on a hill. It resembles an observation hut, but there is some question if there is a clear line of sight from the hut to the bunker. It may just be an observation hut for activities happening in another part of the university compound that was simply constructed at the same time.

In Sept. 2019 I decided to try and solve this little mystery. I reached out to Joseph Bermudez, senior image analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and to Joshua Pollack and David Schmerler, both senior research associates at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, to see if they could lend any insight.

Not being a missile expert, my initial thought was that the site may have been a horizontal test structure for testing either small scale-models of rocket engines or to test certain pieces of technology. I came to this conclusion because A) the NDU has been involved with the development of North Korea's missile technology, B) I thought that the opening would allow engine exhaust to flow out without damaging the rest of the concrete structure, and C) because learning about complex systems require learning about the fundamentals first. As with rocket hobby groups elsewhere, the bunker could be used to familiarize students with simple examples of solid fuel rocket engines. 

Unfortunately, none of the three experts seemed to think my idea was right, and all gave their own various reasons for that. So, still left with a mystery, I asked them what their impressions were. 

Joseph Bermudez said that his initial thoughts were that it's either a small firing range for handguns or a small explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) site for "training/familiarization". He also said that the damage to the roof of the other building couldn't be positively identified without doing more in-depth image analysis, but that it didn't necessarily have to have been caused by an explosion.

I doubt that it is a firing range because many examples of those exist, both large and small, and none take on this form, but some kind of EOD site does makes sense.

Joshua Pollack also raised the possibility of the bunker structure having to do with explosives, either training or testing. David Schmerler called its utility for substantial testing/training into question because of a general lack of infrastructure to move vehicles and equipment around (access to the site is through dirt paths). However, small vehicles can make it to the site and small-scale experiments/training could be carried out.

In conclusion, there is no conclusion. While the general consensus is that it may have something to do with explosives, there still exists the questions of what kind of explosives (weapons, demolition, solid rocket fuel, etc.) and for what purpose (testing, disposal, training). As it stands, the site doesn't currently seem to be easily identifiable, it appears to be the only structure of its kind in the country, and generally remains a mystery. Perhaps as time goes on and newer images of the site become available its function will become clear. Until then, I have another North Korea Mystery to add to the list.

If you have a credible explanation (or better yet, proof) of what the site is or additional information that may be useful, please feel free to comment or otherwise get in touch.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Kbechs87, GreatPoppo, and Planefag.

--Jacob Bogle, 11/10/19

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Recent Growth at Yongbyon

The Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center is North Korea's primary nuclear facility. It contains multiple reactors, research facilities, radiochemical laboratories, and a uranium enrichment facility.

5 MWe Magnox reactor at Yongbyon. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Yongbyon (named for the ancient nearby walled city) was constructed from 1961-1964 with Soviet assistance. It took on the style of a Cold War-era "closed city" and is cut off from the rest of the country. It lies within a secured compound covering 24.8 sq. km and is protected by 22 primary checkpoints and internal gates. It is further defended by an array of nearly 40 anti-aircraft artillery batteries which encircle the region. Over the decades North Korea, along with its foreign benefactors, has spent billions constructing the site. Based on inflation, the initial start-up costs of Yongbyon was over $4 billion (or $500 million in 1962 dollars).

While Yongbyon is contained within a defined security perimeter, it is divided internally into two main sectors: the civilian, residential area (also known as Bungang-ri) and, to the east, the nuclear facilities themselves which form an axis of distinct research and production complexes centered along the Kuryong River that flows through the area.

Over the years, Yongbyon has grown substantially. New housing, new reactors, and new laboratories keep popping up. Even when the reactors enter stages of relative inactivity, the surrounding site continues to expand. The unofficial nuclear truce between North Korea, the United States, and South Korea that the country's leaders have tried to create in recent years hasn't done much to halt the growth of Yongbyon.

Until recently, the "newest" Google Earth imagery of the area was from 2016. Reporting by groups like 38 North have noted the occasional new building being constructed over time as they have focused on specific parts of Yongbyon and purchased newer commercial images for that reporting.

Recently, however, Google Earth updated their imagery for the entire area. Dated October 13, 2019, we can now immediately observe three year's worth of changes over miles and miles of territory in and around the nuclear site. It also gives us a chance to observe changes missed by other reporting or totally ignored (such as the residential area).

After looking over the closed-city, I was able to note 23 changes in the form of new construction or buildings being repaired/renovated.
You'll note that most of the changes occurred within the residential zone and inside the administration/reactor zone (where the 5 MWe and 50 MWe reactors are located).

I'll start with changes to the residential zone (Bungang-ri).

The two main changes in this area shown is that several new apartment blocks are under construction and the road has been widened. Apartments were also built in 2016. Access to Yongbyon is severely restricted and you must have the necessary permits to live there (and must receive permission to leave). This means that any large population growth is purposeful and comes from the government bringing in new scientists, engineers, and their families.

Concerns have been raised over the years about the health and well-being of the thousands of people that live here and work at all of the various facilities. While residents receive better food rations, greater opportunities for their general advancement in life and the advancement of their children, the area is reportedly heavily polluted. In 2019, a former resident of Bungang-ri told DailyNK that,

"In other districts it is very difficult to find people with cleft lip but here there are many individuals with crooked mouths, those lacking eyebrows, incidents of dwarfism, and those with six fingers. There are even children who just look like bare bones."

Near the city center, even more apartments have been constructed. These are around six stories in height. When added to the ones discussed above, at least 300 new apartment units have been constructed since 2016. Going further back, it's likely the population of Bungang-ri has grown by 2,000-2,500 under Kim Jong Un, based on the number of apartments constructed since 2011.

Construction of the noted underground site began in 2004 and is one of several within the complex.

Population growth has led to the need to build other, non-residential buildings. At least three have been added (or are currently under construction) and there may be a fourth under construction as well. One interesting note, as gas stations have proliferated at major cities across the country, one isn't visible in Yongbyon. There are plenty of reasons why that may be, but one could be because the average citizen can't leave or go trading as easily as people outside of Yongbyon, so the regime doesn't see a need to build a fueling site for passenger vehicles.

Yongbyon's sealed nature has likely created a situation where the regime's propaganda, cult of personality, information controls, and level of market activity have all been less subjected to change or challenge verses the rest of the country.

This next image shows changes to the primary administration and research zone. Multiple structures are in the process of being constructed and at least one appears to be undergoing some kind of renovation. I have also highlighted an addition to a research facility that was built in 2016.

To the immediate north, two new structures can be seen next to the IRT-2000 research reactor building. The reactor was provided by the Soviet Union in 1965. The Soviets provided North Korea with a total of 42 kg of highly enriched uranium until 1990. Pyongyang has said that the reactor produces needed isotopes for medical research and treatments, but the reactor can also produce tritium for their weapon's program. By 2011, it was widely believed that the Soviet-supplied fuel had all been used. However, it is now suspected that the reactor is using domestically created fuel.

The garden has existed for many years and is part of the regime's mandate that military units, schools, factories, and pretty much everywhere else do their part to solve the country's food problem. The food could be eaten by those working there or it may be sold in markets to earn currency. Looking at all of Yongbyon, you'll find nearly every free space of land is being used for cultivation. If defector and witness reports are correct about major pollution, then any food grown here will also be contaminated. This echos problems seen at other nuclear-related facilities, such as the uranium mine and milling plant at Pyongsan.

Several changes can be seen at the Yongbyon reactor zone. A new office building was constructed, and two smaller support structures built. The heavy-lift crane site has also undergone significant changes.

The crane structure was first erected in 2011 as part of the construction of the experimental light water reactor. The long, angular structure could be warehouses or contain a conveyor system. This was noted by 38 North and shows that the changes began in 2017 and continued into 2018.

While there are questions about the current operational nature of the reactors, the area has been very well maintained, had new construction, and stands ready to resume work whenever the orders are given.

Between the reactor zone and the nuclear fuel production zone lies a facility for maintenance and supplies. A large new building is currently under construction there. Its size and the visible structures inside suggest that it is likely an administration building to coordinate various construction and maintenance activities around Yongbyon.

The compound holding North Korea's uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel production center has likewise seen several additions.

Two small buildings have been constructed next to the enrichment facility, a building has been added to the isotope facility (lower right), and a building that had long appeared to have been abandoned has been repaired/reconstructed.

The new building at the lower right was pointed out in a 2018 report by 38 North.

Lastly there is some construction work happening right outside of a main security compound to the east. Two buildings are currently under construction (space for a third exists but no foundation work has begun). I don't know if the site is directly related to Yongbyon but it is extremely close to the electrified fence that surrounds the complex and is next to a key entrance point.

Not only is it possible to see that many changes have happened since 2016 (which, of course there would have been), but we can see that there are structures currently and actively being built. All of this points to an active city with a growing population, improved research and production capabilities, and is substantial evidence that North Korea isn't giving up on their nuclear program anytime soon. The continued mining and milling of uranium at Pyongsan, the fact that almost every building along the 17-km stretch of Punggye-ri still stands, and new progress toward creating submarine-launched ballistic missiles paints a picture very different than the one promoted by various media and political outlets.

Handshakes, signatures on paper, and hope all must give way to what is actually happening on the ground. And what is happening on the ground is telling.

This report also speaks to the ongoing need for continuing updates to Google Earth and other freely accessible products that give access to satellite images of the globe. Buying enough commercial imagery to cover all of Yongbyon can run into the thousands of dollars and places restrictions on research. While commercial entities enable individuals and news and research organizations to look at very recent images of specific sites, which does provide immense value, it also places limits on more comprehensive research into larger areas and often means that a good deal of North Korea gets overlooked.
However, so long as Google Earth (and even general map providers like Bing) continue to provide the world with their services, the democratization of research can continue. Be it looking into North Korea, changes to the Amazon rain forest, new internment camps in China, or the agricultural outputs of France, the world relies on open access to information.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Kbechs87, GreatPoppo, and Planefag.

--Jacob Bogle 11/1/2019

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Missile Bases & Major Underground Sites

North Korea is perhaps the most militarized country in history. As a country roughly the size of the US state of Pennsylvania, it has literally thousands of distinct military sites: air defense, training bases, coastal artillery batteries, airbases, missile sites, tunnels, and much more. Because of the country's nuclear program, their missile bases receive a lot of attention. However, there is still a lot that is unknown about these sites, in part, because North Korea has only officially acknowledged a handful of them (and often just in vague terms).

The satellite facilities at Sohae, Tonghae and the Chiha-ri missile base are fairly well known, but the good folks over at Beyond Parallel (part of the Center for Strategic International Studies) estimate there may be as many as 20 undeclared ballistic missile bases and related support facilities. The 2017 release of "Phase II" of the AccessDPRK mapping project listed over 9,500 military points of interest, and since then, I have begun work on the next part of the map which now includes an additional 1,500 military sites. Using this unpublished version, I decided to see what likely missile bases and large underground facilities exist in the country. (These stand-alone underground facilities are something Beyond Parallel isn't looking at.)

After going through every identified military base, tunnel, underground facility (UGF), known and suspected missile base, and other sites, I was able to locate 19 known and possible ballistic missile bases, the two satellite launch stations, and 39 large UGFs that are separate from the missile bases.

North Korea considered the creation of a ballistic missile program soon after the Korean War and it became an official goal as early as 1965, with Kim Il Sung saying the country needed to have rockets that could fire as far as Japan. From then until the early 1980s, the regime laid the foundations of the program including the acquisition of Soviet and Egyptian technology. In 1984 they were able to test their first indigenously produced missile which was a variation of the SCUD-B.

The height of their missile program came with the first internationally verified successful orbital insertion of a satellite into space in 2012, the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2, followed by the 2017 test of the Hwasong-15 missile which can reach nearly all of the United States.

The vast size of North Korea's missile program infrastructure (dozens of locations in a country the size of Pennsylvania) helps to ensure that they can continue to carry out attacks if one or several bases are destroyed during a war. It also makes it all the more difficult for Western powers to keep track of the movement of weapons and equipment.

North Korea's ballistic missiles and ranges. Image from the Center for Strategic International Studies

By 2017 the country was thought to have around 900 short-range missiles, though that figure may have grown to 1,000+ with the apparent development of a North Korea-produced clone of the Russian Iskander missile. (As well as from the continued production of known missile systems.)
  • Short-range missile are typically defined as having a range of 1,000 km (620 miles) or less. Examples include the KN-02, Hwasong-6, and the aforementioned Iskander clone.
  • Medium-range missiles have a range of 1,000-3,000 km (620-1,860 mi). Examples include the Rodong-1 and Pukkusong-2 (KN-15). North Korea likely has 500 or fewer of these missiles.
  • Intermediate-range missiles can reach 3,000-5,500 km (1,864-3,418 mi). An example is the Hwasong-12. There are likely fewer than 250 IRMBs.
  • ICMBs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) have a range exceeding 5,500 km (3,400 mi). North Korea's Hwasong-15 is their latest developed ICBM. There are probably fewer than 75 operational missiles in this category.

The country's missile bases are divided into three main "belts". They are, with increasing distance away from the DMZ the, "tactical belt", "operational belt", and "strategic belt". The different belts reflect the types of missiles deployed at each base, with the strategic belt holding long-range missiles (this includes the submarine base at Mayang) and the tactical belt being the site of shorter-range missiles aimed at the DMZ, Seoul, and other important South Korean sites.

Pyongyang's missile program is under the control of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Strategic Forces and the construction of the bases is done by KPA Unit No. 583 (the Military Construction Bureau). Substantial construction began for many of the bases in the late 1980s to mid-1990s, and construction at all sites had either already began or was scaled up by the 2000s. Several ballistic missile bases, such as Chiha-ri and Yusang-ni, have had upgrades since Kim Jong Un came to power.

A note on naming. Unless a name has been given in an official North Korean or US-ROK alliance intelligence source, all of the locations talked about in this article are otherwise named for the nearest populated place as listed by OpenStreetMap. A lack of standard naming has led to confusion for years, but that's one thing this article seeks to remedy. And, instead of simply saying "a base in Chagang Province" or "by Kimchon-ni" (when there are multiple villages with the same name), this article will list the base's exact coordinates.

These twenty-one main facilities occupy approx. 362 square kilometers of territory. Despite my best efforts, I wasn't able to positively identify the To'gol base (allegedly in Pyongsan County) or the Kittaeryong base (in Anbyon County).

Within the "tactical belt" are:

1. Chiha-ri - Coordinates are: 38°36'10.63"N 126°44'12.20"E
2. Kal-gol - Coordinates are: 38°40'3.15"N 126°44'49.97"E
3. Kumchon-ni - Coordinates are: 38°57'54.14"N 127°36'8.48"E. Kumchon-ni has been detailed by Beyond Parallel.
4. Sakkanmol - Coordinates are: 38°34'59.81"N 126° 6'29.91"E. Sakkanmol has been detailed by Beyond Parallel.
5. Sing'ye - Coordinates are: 38°38'24.31"N 126°40'48.26"E. Sing'ye is one of the smallest missile bases in the country. It may also be the source name for the Hwansong-class of missiles as a nearby village is named Hwasong, and the base was constructed early on.
6. Suthae-ri - Coordinates are: 38°22'51.67"N 127°29'0.55"E. Suthae-ri is a possible base and hasn't been mentioned in any media that I could find. At less than 10 km from South Korean territory, it would be the closest ballistic missile base to the DMZ. The base doesn't have the "drive thru" bunkers that many other known bases have, but it does have a large and expanding underground facility and several bunkers of other types.

Chiha-ri, Kal-gol, and Sing'ye are all within 5 km of each other, which would lead me to believe that they are connected in some way; perhaps in mutual-supporting roles.

Within the "operational belt" are:

1. Hodo - Coordinates are: 39°24'30.31"N 127°32'5.63"E. The Hodo base is very small and is more for testing missiles than as an operating base during conflict. Hodo seems to have replaced the beaches at Wonsan for testing sort-range missiles, as the site at Wonsan is now a cluster of hotels.
2. Hwajil-li - Coordinates are: 39°11'52.58"N 125°23'56.93"E. Hwajil-li is listed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative as a missile base that was constructed in the 1980s. Current satellite imagery doesn't show anything that would suggest the site is currently used as a missile base. A basic air defense battery and associated facilities is all that exists today.
3. Ongpyong - Coordinates are: 39°19'33.69"N 127°19'50.68"E. It is a smaller base and its facilities may be dispersed throughout a larger area. There are ongoing questions about the site's true purpose, and it may not be a ballistic missile base but rather a support facility for region air defense sites. 
4. Sil-li - Coordinates are: 39°10'49.68"N 125°39'48.84"E. Sil-li is located next to the Pyongyang-Sunan International Airport and is a "ballistic missile support facility", which is not the same as an "operational ballistic missile base". It was constructed from 2016-2020, and has been detailed by Beyond Parallel
5. Singsong-ri - Coordinates are: 39°21'32.23"N 125°45'49.57"E. Singsong-ri is a possible base. Like Suthae-ri, it doesn't fit the design of a lot of other known bases, but it does have three underground entrances which run deep into a mountain. If it is indeed a base, it's likely used to store missiles and equipment.
6. Yusang-ni - Coordinates are: 39°26'51.58"N 126°15'30.33"E. Yusang-ni has been detailed by Beyond Parallel.

On average, the land area used by these bases is smaller than bases in the other two belts.

Within the "strategic belt" are:
This belt includes the country's two satellite launching stations as they have played a role in the development of ballistic missile technology and could be used as launching sites.

1. Hoejung-ni - Coordinates are: 41°22'21.64"N 126°54'46.14"E. Hoejung-ni is one of the newest missile bases to be constructed. It is only a few kilometers from the base at Yeongjo-ri
2. Kusong-ri (alleged) - Coordinates are: 39°59'51.22"N 124°34'16.80"E. According to Jane's/IHS, this surface-to-air missile base may also house some Nodong missiles; however, this has never been conclusively demonstrated and it is likely only an air defense base based on the most recent satellite imagery.
3. Riman-ri (Yongnim) - It is the largest base by area and covers approx. 72 sq. km. Coordinates are: 40°29'2.94"N 126°30'1.65"E
4. Sangnam-ri - Coordinates are: 40°50'20.20"N 128°32'35.82"E. Sangnam-ri has been detailed by Beyond Parallel.
5. Sinpo-Mayang - Coordinates are: 39°59'42.09"N 128°11'43.98"E. Sinpo houses part of a large submarine base (the other half being on Mayang Island) and has a missile test stand. The base is where North Korea is developing their submarine launched ballistic missiles. The base is not an operational ballistic missile base where missiles would be fired from, but I have included it for its role in the development of SLBMs and the fact that any future SLBM-capable submarines would be based at Sinpo-Mayang.
6. Sino-ri - Coordinates are: 39°38'57.32"N 125°21'36.37"E. Sino-ri has been detailed by Beyond Parallel.
7. Sohae Satellite Launch Center - Coordinates are: 39°40'6.88"N 124°42'30.44"E
8. Taegwan - Coordinates are: 40°18'34.10"N 125°16'17.02"E
9. Tonghae Satellite Launch Center - Coordinates are: 40°52'13.09"N 129°38'34.10"E. My discovery of a missile test stand being constructed at the site was the basis of my very first #AccessDPRK post back in 2013.
10. Yeongjo-ri - Coordinates are: 41°19'44.56"N 127° 5'35.38"E. Once considered a nuclear site, Yeongjo-ri is actually a missile base.

The next area I want to explore is the collection of large underground facilities (UGFs).

As mentioned earlier, these UGFs are not part of any obvious missile base. Underground sites abound in North Korea and serve as active and reserve storage sites for weapons, equipment, food, and other supplies, and they allow for artillery to be fired and then rolled back into the tunnel for protection against counter strike. There has been a lot of speculation about the number of tunnels and underground sites within the country with some estimates going as high as 100,000. Based on the work for AccessDPRK, the real figure is much closer to 1,000 sites (some may have multiple entrances, but they're part of a single facility). Most of them are small and some are used as underground factories. But there are a few dozen (39 to be exact) which are much larger than any of the others (excluding underground industrial sites).

Some of them are placed at military bases and consist of a single complex while others exist as clusters, especially in Pyongyang.

There are four UGFs in Chagang Province.
1. Oil-rodongjagu UGF - 40°59'53.82"N 126°46'51.12"E
2. Janghang UGF - 40°57'32.66"N 126°41'9.98"E
3. Kanggye-Puji UGF - 40°53'12.75"N 126°38'4.45"E
4. Jonchon UGF - 40°32'49.08"N 126°19'48.21"E. This facility is across from the Riman-ri (Yongnim) missile base and so may be connected to it in some way.

There are three UGFs in S. Hamgyong Province.
1. Toksan UGF - 40° 1'52.84"N 127°35'48.28"E
2. Sinphung UGF - 39°58'7.64"N 127°50'17.89"E
3. Songhung UGF - 39°22'54.97"N 127°10'43.71"E

There are five UGFs in Kangwon Province.
1. Chongdu-ri UGF - 38°22'2.71"N 128° 2'20.19"E
2. Wondong-ri UGF - 38°24'51.14"N 127°41'59.76"E
3. Konsol-li UGF - 38°29'30.47"N 127° 0'7.53"E. The UGF here is part of a new military base that was constructed in 2016-2017.
4. Jisang-ri UGF - 38°34'44.13"N 126°44'5.59"E
5. Kubong-ri UGF - 38°37'44.89"N 126°43'15.55"E

There are four UGFs in N. Hwanghae Province.
1. Phyongwon UGF - 38°46'42.16"N 126°27'47.77"E. This has a very large UGF and might actually be part of their missile infrastructure.
2. Taephyong UGF - 38°26'5.60"N 126°20'37.53"E
3. Misan-ri (Kyongje-dong) - 38°34'41.50"N 125°56'6.04"E. This is a set of two enormous bunkers that would serve as a hardened helicopter base during conflict.
4. Okhyon - 38°22'4.16"N 125°44'22.81"E

There are 23 UGFs in Pyongyang. Eleven of them are in three clusters. Each cluster will only get one set of coordinates.
1. Pyongyang Group 1 - 39° 5'58.09"N 125°49'48.07"E. There are three large tunnels/entrances that spread out in an east-west line approx. 1 km long.
2. Pyongyang Group 2 - 39°10'11.96"N 125°51'28.16"E. This is a set of five large tunnels that are along a valley between two sets of hills. From the coordinate given, a rectangle is formed by a line running 1.4 km west to east and then from that point, north to south for ~0.5 km.
3. Pyongyang Group 3 - 39° 5'54.07"N 125°57'1.50"E. This is a group of three tunnels that are all located within the same hill, encircling it.
4. Pyongyang Single UGF - 39° 6'43.85"N 125°58'24.30"E
5. Taedonggang Large UGF - 39°10'25.07"N 125°56'43.60"E
6. Taedonggang Smaller UGF - 39°10'31.77"N 125°56'46.76"E
7. Samdung UGF - 39° 1'32.28"N 126°12'56.77"E
8. Rodgon-ri UGF - 38°57'54.22"N 126° 2'27.51"E
9. Sangwon UGF - 38°49'39.49"N 126° 5'23.32"E
10. Chunghwa UGF - 38°52'28.51"N 125°48'23.32"E. This UGF is within the Air Defense & Combat Command HQ complex.
11. Sunwha UGF - 39° 0'52.08"N 125°36'15.03"E
12. Kanchong UGF - 38°51'34.16"N 125°33'15.48"E
13. Kangso 1 - 38°52'55.87"N 125°30'57.91"E
14. Kangso 2 - 38°52'46.98"N 125°31'48.32"E

Here are a few examples of these underground facilities.

Patreon Special Access
Patreon supporters at the $20 tier are entitled to exclusive datasets. The Google Earth file for this post is one of those exclusive offers. This is the only nationwide map of these facilities within the public domain that contain accurate geolocation data and additional information. The file also has over 300 specific sites of interest within the various missile bases for your research pleasure. Please consider supporting me on Patreon and get access to this and other exclusive datasets.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Kbechs87, GreatPoppo, and Planefag.

--Jacob Bogle, 10/22/2019 (updated list, Dec. 24, 2020)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Air Defense and Combat Command HQ

Situated in the town of Chunghwa, south of Pyongyang, North Korea's air force headquarters is located at the "Air Defense and Combat Command" (from here on abbreviated KPAF HQ). From here, over 110,000 personnel, 1,700 aircraft, and 37 key bases (along with less important ones) are overseen by a headquarter complex that is nestled within a range of low hills.

Little is directly known about the complex, but based on Landsat/Copernicus satellite imagery, we can determine that the headquarters has been in this location since at least 1984. Unfortunately, the image resolution is very low but you can still make out lighter colored man-made structures against the darker, tree-covered hills.

North Korea's air force, the Korean People's Air Force (KPAF) is divided into six primary combat, training, and transport divisions.

  • 1st Air Combat Division (headquartered at Kaechon)
  • 2nd Air Combat Division (headquartered at Toksan)
  • 3rd Air Combat Division (headquartered at Hwangju and is responsible for the DMZ)
  • 5th Air Transport Division (headquartered at Taechon)
  • 6th Air Transport Division (headquartered at Sondok)
  • 8th Air Training Division (headquartered at Orang/Hoemun-ri, is also responsible for the defense of the northeastern part of the country)

Within the divisions include associated forces like airborne (which has at least seven training bases) and reconnaissance. The KPAF has also had a drone (UAV) program since the 1970s.
The use of drones continues to be of concern to South Korean and Allied forces, particularly after multiple sightings of North Korean UAVs and incursions into the DMZ and ROK airspace. Small UAVs flying at under 500 feet are capable of avoiding most radar and air defense systems, leaving South Korea vulnerable to the asymmetric capabilities that UAVs bring to the battlespace.

The first clear look at KPAF HQ comes from imagery dated November 2006. (Click on any image for a larger view.)

The eastern quadrant of the base holds storage bunkers and a possible underground entrance. There is also an old hardened artillery site just outside of the base's perimeter.

Between 2012 and 2013 a new building was constructed next to the Juche Study Hall. It's likely a gymnasium due to the recreational sports fields next to it. A crisp image of the building can be seen on October 26, 2015.

Since 2006, thirteen buildings have been constructed within the complex.

Construction of the newest buildings began in 2017. They lie at the rear of the base (due north), and include three, three-story residential buildings, a possible new assembly building, and another large building with an unidentified purpose. These buildings are in the same area as an underground entrance which itself saw construction work in 2011.

The underground site could be part of building an underground command center but there's no real way to know what the current purpose of it is or its status.

The regime has been placing a lot of effort into modernizing its conventional forces as well as its nuclear program. Today's KPAF HQ is a much different place than it was in 2006, with most of the changes happening under Kim Jong Un.

Despite having a dated air fleet, Pyongyang is creating indigenous air defense systems, they are working on ways to avoid sanctions on fuel, and they are trying to computerize as much as possible. This means that a modern headquarters is needed to oversee an adequate defense structure while also maintaining their abilities to carry out offensive war plans should they determine the time has come.

I want to give a quick shout out to my Patreon supporters: Kbechs87, GreatPoppo, and Planefag.

--Jacob Bogle, 10/14/2019

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Missiles and Monuments

North Korea has been touting itself as a strong, powerful, socialist nation for generations. That propaganda, however, has largely been devoid of reality. That is, until the newest incarnation of the divine Paektu Bloodline arrived to save the people of North Korea. Whatever caricatures may exist of Kim Jong Un being a squat, little "rocket man" with funny hair and whatever very real criticisms exist of the terrible human rights situation in the country, the fact is undeniable: Kim Jong Un has fulfilled the nation's long promoted promise of turning North Korea into a nuclear-armed state with a credible missile deterrent.

While the country has had a missile program for decades, the main propaganda surrounding those developments were limited to posters, songs, and "documentaries", even when progress was made under Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. However, satellite imagery shows that Kim Jong Un feels he deserves something more long lasting, something written in....stone.

Kim Jong Un has tested more ballistic missiles than both of his predecessors combined, and key milestone launches have now been commemorated with monuments of stone. These monuments center on launches carried out in 2017, North Korea's "miracle year" in which they tested missiles capable of hitting all parts of the United States and tested their largest nuclear bomb to-date.

There are five of these launch commemorations known, with the latest one being under construction as of May 2019. The fact the regime is still building these monuments may contradict their claims to have accomplished a nuclear deterrent (at least to their satisfaction) and contradict occasional claims that the government will begin to move away from the "two track" system (developing the economy and nuclear weapons in tandem) to focus on the economy, as it shows Pyongyang is still placing a new level of emphasis on these weapons. (Not to mention all of the other worrying signs that North Korea has no intention to denuclearize.)

I want to give a quick shout out to Joseph Bermudez and Victor ChaJeffery Lewis, and Dave Schmerler for their respective work on individual monuments.

1. Missile tested: Pukkuksong-2. Date: Feb. 12, 2017. Location: Iha-ri driver and vehicle test facility,  40° 0'47.38"N 125°13'22.21"E.

The dimensions of the monument space is roughly 24 m x 19 meter, while the monument itself is a small stone about 2.5-3 meters.

The location of the monument is actually ~320 meters away from the launch site. The test stand that was used was one of the sites demolished in hopes of helping relations between North Korea and the United States.

2. Missile tested: Hwasong-12. Date: May 14, 2017. Location: Kusong, No. 112 Factory, 40° 3'56.61"N 125°12'34.45"E.

The monument foundation first appeared in October 2018. The fact it hasn't been completed by now suggests the work has been suspended for some reason. The concrete pad is approximately 27 meters long. The wider section (left-side) is 10.5 meters wide and the thinner, longer section is about 8 meters wide. Some of the commemorative monuments incorporate the launching pad itself into the overall monument site, so the thinner, longer section could be it.

3. Missile tested: Hwasong-14. Date: July 4, 2017. Location: Panghyon Aircraft Factory, 39°52'19.48"N 125°16'10.85"E.

The test happened within the grounds of the Panghyon Aircraft Factory, some 6.5 km southeast of the Panghyon Air Base. Kim Jong Un called the test a "gift to the American bastards" on America's Independence Day.

A second monument was constructed at the observation post located a kilometer away, but it was later demolished. Currently, this is the only stone monument at the site. Across from the monument, up the hillside, is a slogan sign that was also erected after the test. Unfortunately, the image isn't of sufficient quality to know what the sign says.

4. Missile tested: Hwasong-14. Date: July 28, 2017. Location: Mupyong-ni, No. 65 Factory,  40°36'39.56"N 126°25'32.92"E

The location of this launch may be referred to as Mupyong-ni, which is the name of the local village, Jonchon, which is the name of the city this is in, or Factory No. 65, which is the name of the missile factory the launch actually took place in.

5. Missile tested: Hwasong-15. Date: Nov. 28, 2017. Location: Near Pyongsong, 39°18'58.25"N 125°52'58.08"E.

The Hwasong-15 missile is North Korea's longest-range missile that has been tested. It is theoretically capable of hitting nearly all of the US mainland. Not surprisingly, the monument to the launch is the largest of the five.

Including green space, the monument's area is 75 x 61 meters. The launch site occurred 4 km north of the March 16 Factory in Pyongsong. The factory produces a wide array of military vehicles and supports the missile program by either manufacturing or modifying launch vehicles. According to 38 North, "it was revealed that the building and temporary shelter were used to modify the Hwasong-15 TEL and test the operation of its elevation cradle and detachable launch table for the November 28, 2017 test launch."

One thing that I have found interesting is the variety of locations where North Korea has tested missiles. Factories, fields, vehicle test ranges, beaches, air ports, and even places that are actually dedicated to missile launches like at Hodo. These tests are not only to show that the country has the needed capabilities to successfully launch them, but the range of testing locations is a none-to-subtle message to the world that they are able to do so from any part of the country, not just from military bases or sites with purpose-built infrastructure.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Kbechs87, GreatPoppo, and Planefag.

--Jacob Bogle, 10/1/2019