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It’s another reminder that a nice-sized chunk of the intelligence that the West has on the sealed, deeply-secretive regime comes from amateur analysts, scouring publicly-available satellite images and sharing what they know over Google Earth. Earlier catches include everything from mass graves to military bases to a bigwig’s water slide.
At Sunchon Air Base — arguably the North Korean Air Force’s “most important installation,” according to IMINT & Analysis — at least half of the fleet of MiG-29s and Su-25s there may be stored underground. The MiG-29s are Kim’s only advanced fighter aircraft; the Su-25s, his only modern planes for ground attack. Keeping them below the surface could shield them from the elements and from prying eyes. In addition, Sunchon appears to have a “1350 meter taxiway extend[ing] from the UGF [underground facility] to a point beyond the main parking aprons. This taxiway may in fact be an auxiliary runway, allowing aircraft to be prepared for flight while concealed within the UGF and then launched with little or no warning for a strike” against South Korea.
Other underground airfields might hold more than jets. Onchon amd Kang Da Ri bases both have massive and hardened below-surface facilities. “Air activity at either location has never been publicly disclosed or identified in imagery,” blog author Sean O’Connor notes. Maybe, he speculates, surface-to-surface missiles are hidden there.
The facilities resemble airfields in their layout, but a concrete SSM launch pad is little different from a runway surface. [The North Koreans] could stockpile SSMs in these facilities, using the “runways” as mass launching areas. In this scenario, transporting SSMs to the facilities would be far easier to mask than the deployment of combat aircraft. The facilities could represent logical storage and mating points for nuclear or chemical warheads, allowing them to remain protected prior to use.