Wednesday, July 28, 2010
North Korea’s Underground Airfields
Many of North Korea's most advanced planes are hidden deep beneath the surface. There may be as many as 20 underground airfields scattered across the country. Much of this intelligence actually comes from amateur sleuths and bloggers monitoring the internet for valuable pieces of information. It’s just one more reminder that much of the intelligence we have in the West is not as complete as we would like.
At Sunchon Air Base, one of North Korea’s Air Force’s most important installations, 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 extending 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.
Onchon and 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.
I find these blogs and the analysis based on things readily available on the internet (such as the aerial photograph of the North Korean Airfield at the top of this blog) fascinating. Much of this information is actually monitored by intelligence agencies around the globe. It very often turns out to be as accurate as their own work.