Kim Jong Un could be preparing the launch of a submarine ballistic missile, a US think tank has warned.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies said satellite images it published on its website of North Korea’s Sinpo shipyard showed several vessels within a secure boat basin.
It said one of the boats resembled vessels previously used to tow a submersible test stand barge out to sea.
The think tank said the activity was “suggestive, but not conclusive, of preparations for an upcoming test of a Pukguksong-3 submarine launched ballistic missile from the submersible test stand barge.”
The images also show some activity around the static test stand on the south side of the Sinpo South Shipyard.
This has been seen in the past both for maintenance and prior to ejections tests.
The images published on the website also show two ROMEO-class submarines (SS) anchored within the bay of the submarine base on Mayang-do.
While one submarine is occasionally seen in the area, it is unusual that two are anchored there at the same time.
The think tank said the most likely reason for their presence is that they are exercising as part of the annual summer training cycle.
However, they noted preparations for a forthcoming SLBM test should not be ruled out.
North Korea said last October it had successfully test-fired a Pukguksong-3, a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), from the sea as part of efforts to contain external threats and bolster self-defense.
That launch was seen by analysts as the most provocative by North Korea since it entered dialogue with the United States over its nuclear weapons and missile programs in 2018.
North Korea has suspended long-range missile and nuclear tests since 2017, but efforts led by US President Donald Trump to persuade it to give up its nuclear and missile programs have achieved little.
Trump is seeking re-election in November and a North Korean missile test before that would highlight the lack of progress despite Trump’s unprecedented meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
South Korea’s military said the Pukguksong-3 tested last year flew 450 km (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 910 km (565 miles) and would have had a range of about 1,300 km (800 miles) on a standard trajectory.
There are no visible indications in the imagery that the highly anticipated “newly built submarine” – North Korea’s first true ballistic missile submarine – has been launched, according to the think tank.