UPDATE: Last week I reported this story in Radio Free Asia.
ORIGINAL POST: In The Armed Forces of North Korea Joseph Bermudez gives a thorough accounting of most of the DPRK’s airfields, airports, highway strips, and air force bases. Since the book was published in 2001, however, it is slightly out of date. This week I found a new North Korean runway in Kumgang County which appears to have been built between 2007-5-21 and 2012-9-22 to replace a disused runway five miles to the south.
Pictured above (Google Earth): I have outlined Kumgang County and show the positions of the old and new runways.
The former runway strip (documented in The Armed Forces of North Korea) is located just a mile north of the town of Kumgang. It appears to have fallen into disuse:
The nearby Kumgang-chon River has eroded a southern portion of the runway. It also appears a small drainage canal has been dug across a central section of the unpaved runway.
The new Kumgang Airfield is more sophisticated:
To begin with, the runway (appx 1km x 70m) is paved.
I was curious as to whether this runway is intended to serve primarily for civilian or military purposes. Evidence in favor of civilian use: The runway is close to Inner-Kumgang. Tourists could conceivably fly to this airport and drive appx 20 km (by road) to the Inner Kumgang Rest House. Tourists could also drive 35km to the Kumgang resort. Additionally, there is already a large North Korean air force base just 20km due north of the new runway in Thongchon County. I am not sure if an Air Koryo IL-62M can take off/land on this new runway, but certainly any of the commuter prop planes that carry tourists on domestic flights should not find it too difficult.
Evidence for military use: As of September, there is yet to be built any infrastructure that would serve as a “civilian” airport terminal or air traffic control tower (I use the word “civilian”, but the KPA Air Force controls all of the DPRK’s airspace). These types of infrastructure can be seen at other North Korean “civilian” airports in Pyongyang, Hamhung, and Samjiyon. It could be that construction is still ongoing. Additionally, the airport is currently protected by a small number of hardened artillery positions (HARTs) located next to the runway. Artillery, however, can be seen at other “civilian” airports in the DPRK as well. Just south of the HARTs we can also see what appears to be some tunneling or excavation work being carried out in the hillside. The purpose of this work remains unclear: