The Hermit Kingdom’s quest for a submarine launched ballistic missile platform continues to progress. A missile test raft now accompanies North Korea’s first ballistic missile submarine.
Nuclear armed ballistic missile submarines are an exclusive club. Only US, UK, France, Russia, China and India have them. Now North Korea is poised to join the club, bringing more distant targets within range. While North Korea’s first ‘Boomer’ is not technologically comparable to the other classes it is a game changer in the strategic sense. I am cautious to suggest that it will be conducting deterrence patrols off the West Coast of US any time soon, but it does present a launch platform which is not restricted to Korea’s confined landmass. And whatever the submarine’s sea-keeping and endurance relative to proper SSBNs, regional targets such as Japan, Guam and even Hawaii get a bit closer.
(On the balance of probabilities…)
This submarine is a ballistic missile submarine designed to deliver nuclear weapons
It has not been revealed to the public and is not (yet) in the news
Two missiles are carried and can be lunched while the submarine is submerged
The missiles are likely to be smaller and shorter ranged than the BM25 Musudan missiles
For the time being the submarine should be regarded as a test platform, but the inclusion of two missile tubes points to an eventual operational capability
Relative to other ballistic missile submarines the Sinpo Class will be shorter ranged and stay on station for shorter periods of time
However, it can hide in littoral waters and potentially bottom-out on the seabed with minimal systems running for added stealth. Missile support systems would have to be on however.
North Korean submarine technology is crude but their submarines are aggressively employed and have proven to be a credible threat
The West Coast of US is not yet within operational range but this is a key stepping stone towards that type of capability. Guam and other regional targets remain at risk.
The submarine has two launch tubes mounted in the sail giving the appearance of a Derringer 1866 pistol. This configuration is similar to the Russian GOLF and HOTEL Class submarines. This may be no coincidence as North Korea received a number of GOLF Class hulls as scrap in the 1990s. It also allows the submarine’s hull to be much smaller which is a sensible consideration for a desperately poor country, and even more so if the design is only intended as test platform or limited operating capability. The missiles are likely to be smaller and thus shorter ranged than the BM25 Musudan type in order to maintain a low center of buoyancy whilst the submarine is submerged. They may be liquid fuelled but solid fuel would likely be preferred.
The existence of the North Korean ballistic missile submarine was first revealed on this website on 17th October 2014 (days before other sites). It has since been labelled the “Sinpo Class” after the town where the secret shipyard is located. Go to original article
The new submarine first appeared outside the shipyard at Sinpo between 30th April 2014 (when it was bot present in imagery) and 24th July 2014. The July imagery was not available on Google earth until later in the year. The new type was 65m (213ft) long and had a beam of ~6.5m (21ft), making it much larger than the existing Sang-O (Shark) and Yono Class submarines. The location was in fact associated with the manufacturer of the Sang-O Class small attack submarines and in particular with the enlarged 40m version. Initial assessment by this website (credit to unnamed individuals who assisted in the analysis) pointed to a ballistic missile submarine.
In imagery from 18th December 2014 a raft is visible moored in front of the submarine. This is consistent with rafts used to test launch ballistic missiles from underwater before it is attempted from a crewed submarine. The layout of the raft is remarkably similar to those used by Russia. Together with a rocket engine test stand near the site this strongly reinforces the hypothesis that this submarine is a ballistic missile boat. The Raft was still present in the latest imagery available taken on a 2nd March 2015 overpass:
We can now see the twin missile silo holes in the sail, resembling a Derringer 1866 pistol. The boat’s bridge is squeezed in below and in front of the missile tubes.
The missile test raft
The raft is a platform that can be anchored and sunk to a set depth. It can then be monitored remotely while the missile is launched from a vertical launch tube mounted centrally. We do not have close-up images of the North Korean Raft but it is remarkably similar to the ones used by the Soviet Union during the 1960s.
www.hisutton.com By H I Sutton