Archive for the ‘Aviation’ Category

DPRK’s Air Koryo to open Pyongyang, Harbin charter flight

Friday, February 24th, 2012

According to Xinhua:

Air Koryo of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will launch a charter flight route between Pyongyang and the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin on April 27, local Chinese airport authorities said Friday.

The airline will offer a round-trip flight between the cities every Monday and Friday, a spokesman with the Heilongjiang Provincial Airport Group Management Co. Ltd. said.

The new service will meet the travel demands of nationals from both countries, the spokesman said.

Harbin, known as China’s “Ice City,” is the capital of Heilongjiang Province, which borders Russia.

Read the full story here:
DPRK’s Air Koryo to open Pyongyang, Harbin charter flight
Xinhua
2012-2-24

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China does [not?] commit to new infrastructure investment in Rason

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

UPDATE 2 (2012-4-12): North Korea and China attracting investors for Rajin Port development (IFES):

China is currently actively recruiting investors to build additional wharfs in Rajin Port.

China’s Dandong City Industrial and Information Association (丹东市信息协会) announced that it is seeking investments for the construction of tanker wharf under 10,000 ton and affiliated facilities. This organization has received 45 year usage rights from the Rason City People’s Committee and stated that it needed 330 million CNY (52 million USD) to cover the construction cost. According to the association, the investment is attractive because of its geographic location, reduced transit time and costs, and tax-free benefits, for which a special permit was obtained from the North Korean authorities granting trade goods coming from Jilin Province at the Hunchun Port to be allowed entry tax-free. In addition, cargo will be permitted to be sent from Rajin Port to other ports in China.

Meanwhile, North Korea is also planning to build a new port in the Rajin-Sonbong area with a state-of-the-art container distribution capacity. According to the “Rajin New Port Development Plan,” Rajin port development will undergo major transformation as an international hub port, similar to Busan Harbor, unlike the previous small-scale renovations of Piers 1, 2, and 3. This new port is expected to be built across from the current Rajin Port.

Rajin Port development was initially considered as a remodeling project to update the existing wharfs. In 2003, China began to implement construction of Piers 1, 2, and 3. However, the piers began to deteriorate and for the lack of railway and road infrastructure in the area, it delayed the transportation and distribution and could not perform its full function. As a solution, in 2008, North Korea transferred the usage right of Pier 1 to China and Pier 3 to Russia. At that time, Pier 1 was developed to primarily transport chemical fertilizers but it was recently updated as a transportation dock for coal. Russia, in addition to the port, also carried out a modernization project of the Rajin-Hassan railway system to improve the transport of containers.

The new port development plan as suggested by North Korea indicates Jian Group of China as the responsible party for developing the new port into a container port. However, considering that North Korea’s industry does not call for container ports, it is more likely that North Korea is expanding the port to make it a hub port to ship cargo to China, Russia, and Europe. Considering Rajin Port’s geographical advantage, it is likely that North Korea is striving to make it into an international hub port that connects the Pacific with Northeast Asia.

China’s recent advertisement of investment is also considered to be linked with the new port development in Rajin Port.

UPDATE 1 (2012-3-1): Accoridng to Stratfor, the Chinese have denied they plan to make this investment.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied allegations made in a Feb. 16 South Korean media report regarding its agreement with North Korea to jointly develop the Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a port area in northeast North Korea commonly referred to as the Rason Special Economic Zone.

According to the Yonhap news agency, Beijing agreed in late 2011 to invest about 19 billion yuan ($3 billion) into Rason, for which it would receive the lease of three piers for 50 years. Under the agreement, Beijing would also build an airfield, a thermal power plant and a 55-kilometer (34-mile) railway track connecting Rason to Tumen, China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed that the specific details of the report are untrue and that China and North Korea had agreed only in principle to develop the zone.

China has long exerted its economic influence in North Korea and has an interest in the strategically important Rason Special Economic Zone. Chinese involvement in Rason dates back to the 1990s, though Beijing increased its involvement considerably in 2005 when it secured the rights to one of the port’s piers. Beijing has been particularly involved over the past few years. While the details of the deal remain unknown, it is clear that Beijing has arranged to help Pyongyang develop Rason, possibly by connecting the remote port to northwest China. Such a development would revitalize the zone — to the benefit of both countries.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-2-15): China has committed to infrastructure projects in Rason. According to Yonhap:

China has secured the rights to build three new piers in a special economic zone in North Korea’s northeast and use them for 50 years, sources said Wednesday.

China will also build an airfield and a thermal power plant in the special economic zone known as Rason, as well as a 55-kilometer railway track between China’s northeastern city of Tumen and Rason.

North Korea and China reached an agreement late last year to build infrastructure in Rason with Chinese investment of about US$3 billion, according to the sources in Seoul and Beijing.

The Daily NK offers some more data:

China has agreed to dig out dock 4 at Rasun to make it possible for 70,000 ton vessels to dock and to construct a runway long enough to accommodate passenger and cargo aircraft within the SEZ; the railroad is due to be complete by 2020, while the development of dock 5 and 6 will follow that of dock 4, Yonhap sources claim.

This agreement was reportedly signed quietly by North Korea’s Joint Ventures Committee and the Chinese government shortly before Kim Jong Il’s death.

The North Koreans have sought the construction of an airport and expansion of the port  for some time.

KITC published the image above in 1995 (Source here).  If you look carefully on the right side of the picture you will see the site of a proposed airport.

Above is a more recent map of Rason published by the DPRK. In the middle of the above map you can see a small airplane which represents the desired location of a future airfield. It is in the same location as shown on the KITC map.

Here is the approximate location on Google Earth (42.397884°, 130.592084°):

If you look at the left side of the KITC photo you can also see that there are many piers, however today there are only three.  I suspect that the new piers will be constructed south of the current piers and will look something like this:

The railway and power plant projects are intereting as well.  There is already a thermal power plant in Sonbong, so I expect that the Chinese are simply renovating it so that it generates more power or is simply more reliable (Google Earth:  42.327275°, 130.382585°):

At a presentation at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, DC, Andray Abrahamian reported that increased electricity supplies for the Rason Zone could come from China.

As for the Tumen (China) – Rason railway line…this already exists as well.  The DPRK’s Hambuk Line (함북선) runs from Chongjin to Namyang (border with Tumen) to Rason:

The Tumen to Rason leg of this railway line, however, is approximately 156km (according to Google Earth) and likely runs pretty slowly.  The proposed new Chinese-built Tumen-Rason line is intended to be just 1/3 the distance!

Additional Information:

1. The Russians built a railway line from their border to the Rajin Port. Learn more here.

2. The Chinese and Russians have already rented two of Rajin’s three ports.

Read the full stories here:
China secures right to use 3 piers to be built on N. Korean port for 50 years
Yonhap
2012-2-15

China Reportedly Grabs 3 Docks and More
Daily NK
2012-2-15

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Air Koryo launches/cancels Kuwait service

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

UPDATE 3 (2011-11-15): NK News has more on the unofficial Air Koryo Facebook Page here.

UPDATE 2 (2011-11-12): The unofficial Air Koryo Facebook Page posted the following comment in response to a question about service to Kuwait (thanks to a reader for the pointer):

It is not canceled. It is restricted bookings just like Moscow services.

The comment is followed by this one:

Kwang-tae Kim: I am a reporter of South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. Can u elaborate on why bookings are restricted and when bookings will be resumed? Some people speculated that it could be North Korea’s attempt to prevent the news of popular uprisings in the Arab world from reaching North Korea. Do u have any comment? Thanks

UPDATE 1 (2011-11-12): According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s flag carrier has canceled an air route to Kuwait, Airline Route blog says, in what could be Pyongyang’s latest attempt to prevent the news of popular uprisings in the Arab world from reaching the isolated country.

The move came less than six months after Air Koryo started a weekly direct flight service between Pyongyang and Kuwait City, Airline Route said Monday on its Web site, citing the carrier’s planned winter operation.

In late May, Air Koryo announced the service on its Facebook page, adding that a large number of North Koreans work in the Middle East.

The North’s airline has not yet commented on the reported cancellation of the service on its Facebook page, which was last updated late in October.

Here is the source information for this story:

As per 07NOV11 GDS timetable display, the following is North Korean flag carrier Air Koryo’s planned Winter 2011/12 operation.

Pyongyang – Bangkok
JS153 FNJ1020 – 1420BKK T20 4
JS154 BKK1220 – 2000FNJ T20 4

Pyongyang – Beijing
JS151 FNJ0900 – 0955PEK T20 26
JS251 FNJ1030 – 1130PEK T20 4

JS152 PEK1255 – 1600FNJ T20 26
JS252 PEK1405 – 1710FNJ T20 4

Pyongyang – Kuala Lumpur
JS159 FNJ1340 – 2000KUL T20 14
JS160 KUL2300 – 0730+1FNJ T20 25

Pyongyang – Kuwait Service Cancelled

Pyongyang – Shenyang
JS155 FNJ1200 – 1210SHE T20 36
JS156 SHE1500 – 1710FNJ T20 36

Pyongyang – Vladivostok
JS271 FNJ0830 – 1220VVO T20 5
JS272 VVO1830 – 1820FNJ T20 5

On an similar note, according to the Air Koryo Facebook page (Oct 28):

Air Koryo 2012 European Charters:

We are glad to announce to our European Union fans that Air Koryo will indeed be operating a seasonal service to Germany with a service from Pyongyang’s Sunan to Berlin’s Schonefeld airport. The serivces will operate from April till May 2012 and will operate weekly. Service dates are currently listing as first departure of 12 April and final flight 3 May. All service will be operated by Tupolev Tu-204 aircraft.

More information including timetable and official route i.e. non-stop or one stop will be released soon.

The flight will operate via Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport, the flights will operate on alternate dates to the weekly direct flight to Moscow. Note that the flight to Berlin will be a direct flight, and not non-stop. The service will be operated by the larger Tu-204-100E

ORIGINAL POST (2011-6-1): According to an online aviation forum:

Air Koryo are opening a new route to Kuwait City, to operate once a week.

Outbound (Tue, day 2): JS 161 FNJ 1800 / KWI 0110+1
Return (Wed, day 3): JS 162 KWI 1400 / FNJ 0500+1
Aircraft: Tupolev Tu-204-300

From the schedule it is obvious that the aircraft parks for thirteen hours, enabling the crew to have an eight hour sleep before operating the machine back to Pyongyang.

The Tu-204-300 is the long haul, “SP” version of the 204, and the Air Koryo machine (they have just the one, plus a pair of regular -200s) is the only airframe of the type exported from Russia. It is also used on flights to Moscow, plus Beijing of course.

It is an interesting choice of route out of the hermit kingdom. The airline says, “We are glad to announce Air Koryo has started serving Kuwait City, the capital of the Arabic nation of Kuwait, with a weekly Tupolev Tu-204-300 serivce. The route offers many connections onto the Middle East, Iran, Africa and offers business links in the region.”

A reader in the comments points out that one of the DPRK’s new Tupolevs was in Kuwait on March 25, 2011 at 10:54 CET, so the route may already be in use.

In April 2011, Air Koryo announced regular service to Kuala Lumpur.

UPDATE: This was apparently picked up by VOA and Yonhap.

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New Air Koryo terminal

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

Pictured above: The new Air Koryo terminal at Sunan Airport via Air Koryo’s unofficial facebook page.

According to the unofficial fan page:

The new terminal at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport is in 100% use as of the 15th of July 2011. The new terminal features modernised facilities for luggage, security, customs, border control and the list goes on to an extent.

The building can be seen in the KCNA video “Chinese Art Group Here” dated 2011-7-7.  Sorry, KCNA’s web page does not make it easy to link to videos or stories.  Hopefully they will change that soon.

The building is too recent to appear on Google Earth imagery, which means construction began after 2010-9-15.

Big hat tip to a reader!

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Air Koryo revives Pyongyang – Shanghai route

Monday, July 4th, 2011

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Chinese tourists arrive in Pyongyang on Friday [July 1, 2011] on the inaugural flight of North Korea’s national airline Air Koryo from Pudong Airport in Shanghai to the North Korean capital, in this photo released by Korean Central News Agency on Saturday.

It is the third direct route to Pyongyang from China after flights from Beijing and Shenyang and will operate every Tuesday and Friday.

Additional information:

1. I am not sure about the flights to Shenyang, but the Beijing-Pyongyang route takes place on Tuesday and Saturday.

2. Air Koryo temporarily ran a Shanghai-Pyongyang route last year for “Chinese volunteers” who wanted to visit North Korea for the 60th anniversary of the Korean war.

3. Air Koryo reportedly launched a Pyongyang-Kuwait route earlier this year.

4. No doubt these Chinese tourists will be enjoying the newly “acquired” properties in the Kumgang resort.

4. UPDATE: This from KCNA (2011-8-9):

Many tourists have come to the DPRK by chartered planes.

The Shanghai-Pyongyang air service, which started on July 1, is available on Tuesday and Friday every week.

Tourism through the Xian-Pyongyang air service began on July 28.

Malaysian tourists will come to Pyongyang through direct flight from Kuala Lumpur from August 19.

Along with the increase of tourists, their entry and exit procedures have been simplified.

Under the agreement between the DPRK International Travel Company and a Chinese immigration office, Pyongyang and Pudong airports offer visa exemption to tourists taking the Shanghai-Pyongyang air service.

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UNSC expands panel of experts mandate

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Here is the press release from the UNSC:

Security Council
6553rd Meeting (AM)

SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS UNTIL 12 JUNE 2012 MANDATE OF PANEL OF EXPERTS

HELPING MONITOR SANCTIONS ON DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

The Security Council this morning extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts helping monitor sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for an additional year, until 12 June 2012.

Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1985 (2011) maintaining the current mandate of the group that it established in June 2009. At that time, the Council also condemned a nuclear weapons test conducted by the East Asian country and toughened the sanctions regime on it, calling for stricter inspections of cargo suspected of containing banned items related to the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities, and tightening the arms embargo and financial restrictions. (See Press Release SC/9634)

Through today’s text, noting the importance of credible, fact-based, independent assessments, analysis and recommendations from the Panel, the Council also presented the group’s reporting and consultation requirements. It urged all States to cooperate with the Panel and the sanctions regime.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:14 a.m.

Resolution

The full text of resolution 1985 (2011) reads as follows:

“The Security Council,

“Recalling its previous relevant resolutions, including resolution 825 (1993), resolution 1540 (2004), resolution 1695 (2006), resolution 1718 (2006), resolution 1874 (2009), resolution 1887 (2009) and resolution 1928 (2010), as well as the statements of its President of 6 October 2006 (S/PRST/2006/41) and 13 April 2009 (S/PRST/2009/7),

“Recalling the creation, pursuant to paragraph 26 of resolution 1874 (2009), of a Panel of Experts, under the direction of the Committee, to carry out the tasks provided for by that paragraph,

“Recalling the 12 November 2010 interim report by the Panel of Experts appointed by the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 26 of resolution 1874 (2009) and the 12 May 2011 final report by the Panel,

“Recalling the methodological standards for reports of sanctions monitoring mechanisms contained in the Report of the Informal Working Group of the Security Council on General Issues of Sanctions (S/2006/997),

“Noting, in that regard, the importance of credible, fact-based, independent assessments, analysis and recommendations, in accordance with the Panel of Experts’ mandate,

“Determining that proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,

“Acting under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

“1. Decides to extend until 12 June 2012 the mandate of the Panel of Experts, as specified in paragraph 26 of resolution 1874 (2009), and requests the Secretary-General to take the necessary administrative measures to this effect;

“2. Requests the Panel of Experts to provide to the Committee no later than 12 November 2011 a midterm report of its work, and further requests that, after a discussion with the Committee, the Panel of Experts submit to the Council its midterm report by 12 December 2011, and requests also a final report to the Committee no later than 30 days prior to the termination of its mandate with its findings and recommendations, and further requests that, after a discussion with the Committee, the Panel of Experts submit to the Council its final report upon termination of the Panel’s mandate;

“3. Requests the Panel of Experts to provide to the Committee a planned programme of work no later than 30 days after the Panel’s appointment, encourages the Committee to engage in regular discussions about this programme of work, and further requests the Panel of Experts to provide to the Committee any updates to this programme of work;

“4. Urges all States, relevant United Nations bodies, and other interested parties to cooperate fully with the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006) and with the Panel of Experts, in particular by supplying any information at their disposal on the implementation of the measures imposed by resolution 1718 (2006) and resolution 1874 (2009);

“5. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”

Previous reports by the Panel of Experts can be found here and here.

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EU restrictions on Air Koryo

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

According to the Korea Herald (4/26/2011): The EU has announced it is maintaining the policy established last year.

Antiquated North Korean airliners have been banned from operating in European countries for six years in a row as part of the European Union’s prohibition on 21 states that have failed to meet its safety standards, a U.S.-funded private radio station reported Tuesday.

Under the EU ban, Pyong­yang’s Air Koryo can only fly two new airliners it purchased from Russia last year to the E.U. member states, according to Radio Free Asia.

Read the full story here:
EU prohibits N. Korea’s aged planes for six years
Korea Herald
4/26/2011

According to the Daily NK (3/31/2010): Recently purchased Tupolev’s allowed to fly to EU.

Air Koryo, North Korea’s flag carrier, has been given back partial permission to fly in EU airspace following the quarterly update to the EU’s list of banned airlines.

The lifting of restrictions against the airline is highly conditional, only allowing for entry by two of the airlines’ mostly Soviet-era fleet.

According to European Commission press release IP/10/388 which was released yesterday, March 30th;

“With this update, the Air Koryo licensed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, subject to an operating ban since March 2006, is allowed to resume operations into the EU with two aircraft which are fitted with the necessary equipment to comply with mandatory international standards and following appropriate oversight by its authority. The rest of its fleet remains barred from operating into the EU.”

The two aircraft permitted to operate in EU airspace are a Tupolev Tu-204-300 delivered to Air Koryo in 2007 and currently serving on the Pyongyang-Beijing route, and a Tu-204-100B.

European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas also said in yesterday’s statement, “Safety comes first. We are ready to support countries that need to build up technical and administrative capacity to guarantee the necessary standards in civil aviation. But we cannot accept that airlines fly into the EU if they do not fully comply with international safety standards.”

It is unclear whether Air Koryo plans to exercise its right to enter the EU, though there have been rumors that it plans to begin some kind of service between Pyongyang and Berlin.

Read the full article here:
Two Air Koryo Jets Back in EU Good Books
Daily NK
Chris Green
3/31/2010

According to Yonhap (3/25/2010):

The European Union is expected to relax its four-year ban on the North Korean state carrier, Air Koyro, from all operations in its member states, a source at the European Commission said Wednesday.

Air Koryo has been on the EU’s blacklist of airlines failing to meet international safety standards since the list was first put together in 2006. Currently, five individual carriers, including Air Koryo, and all carriers from 15 countries — 228 companies in total — are on the blacklist.

The EU’s Air Safety Commission met last week to review the list and recommended that the restrictions on the North Korean airline be relaxed to “Annex B,” which means that the carrier can operate in the region under “specific conditions,” the source said.

Air Koryo officials attended last week’s meeting to brief the commission on the safety measures they have taken so far, the source said. It was unclear what conditions would be imposed for Air Koyro if the ban is relaxed.

The Air Safety Commission is an advisory panel without decision-making power, but its recommendations are usually reflected when the blacklist is updated. The list is revised three times a year, with this year’s first update slated for late this month.

Read the full story here:
EU expected to relax ban on N. Korean carrier Air Koryo
Yonhap
3/25/2010

According to Yonhap (1/9/2010):

Air Koryo, North Korea’s air carrier, has been banned from offering flight services to Europe for a fifth year after having failed to meet international safety requirements, U.S. international broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) said Saturday.

The North Korean carrier has been involved in the list of carriers prohibiting from flying to the 27 members of European Union that was released this year, RFA said.

Air Koryo reportedly has a fleet of about 20 planes made between the 1960s and 1970s in the Soviet Union.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean airline banned from flying to Europe
Yonhap
1/9/2010

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Air Koryo launches Pyongyang – Kuala Lumpur route

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Accoridng to the Borneo Post:

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) announced the arrival of another new airline as Air Koryo, the national carrier of the Democratic People’s Republic (DPR) of Korea recently made its maiden landing at KLIA.

The inclusion of Air Koryo took the total number of airlines operating at KLIA to 58. Air Koryo became the first airline to introduce direct schedule flights to Pyongyang from Kuala Lumpur.

Air Koryo will fly twice weekly to KL from the capital city of Pyongyang, on Mondays and Thursdays, utilising a TU-204 Next Generation Tupolev type of aircraft, with 142 seating capacity.

“Malaysia Airports welcomes Air Koryo’s schedule operations to KLIA and wishes them all the best for this service. Its presence will not only increase the connectivity at KLIA but also establish a new direct service between DPR Korea and Malaysia,” said Malaysia Airports managing director Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad in a press statement.

“Air Koryo has been operating charter flights to KLIA for the last few years. Now it has created sufficient market strength to start schedule operations and we are very happy with the new development,” he added.

General manager of Air Koryo in KL said, “This new destination will be a welcome addition to Air Koryo’s route expansion. Kuala Lumpur has been a much-anticipated destination and I am confident it will be a fruitful service for Air Koryo. Malaysians and Koreans alike can now enjoy the best of both countries through Air Koryo’s service.”

Air Koryo was founded on Sept 21, 1955 with the name Chosonminhang. It was renamed to Air Koryo in March 1992. Air Koryo’s networks cover Beijing and Shenyang in China, Vladivostok and Moscow (Russia), Bangkok (Thailand) and now Kuala Lumpur.

The Inter governmental Air Route Agreement was signed between DPR Korea and Malaysia 20 years ago. The airline became an affiliate member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on October 21, 1996.

Read the full story here:
Air Koryo makes debuts at KLIA
Borneo Post
2011-4-20

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DPRK makes progess on ‘Thunderbirds runway’

Friday, April 15th, 2011

UPDATE 2 (2011-4-25): Strategy Page comments on the technology that makes these facilities obsolete:

Over the last decade, there has been a pronounced slowdown in North Korean work on underground air bases. Part of this may be the result of growing energy shortages up north, and the frequent blackouts. It’s not just electricity that’s been in short in North Korea over the last decade, it’s everything. That includes construction equipment, especially the specialized stuff needed for digging tunnels into the sides of mountains. But work continues, slowly, mostly with manual labor, to expand the network of underground parking and maintenance facilities for aircraft, as well runway extensions. These sheltered air bases begin underground, then exit the mountain and continue outside. Apparently the North Koreans have figured out that the Americans have now developed weapons that could quickly shut down these underground facilities, and keep them inoperable.

One of the key weapons for doing this is the U.S. Air Force 129 kg (285 pound) Small Diameter Bomb (SDB). The official story was that this GPS guided smart bomb was needed for urban warfare. The smaller blast (17kg/38 pounds of explosives, compared to 127 kg/280 pounds for the 500 pound bomb) from the SDB resulted in fewer civilian casualties. Friendly troops can be closer to the target when an SDB explodes. While the 227, 455, 911 kg (500, 1,000 and 2,000 pound) bombs have a spectacular effect when they go off, they are often overkill. The troops on the ground would rather have more, smaller, GPS bombs available. This caused the 227 kg (500 pound) JDAM to get developed quickly and put into service. But the smaller SDB was always a mystery, with many produced, but few actually used.

But the SDB also has a hard steel, ground penetrating, front end, that can penetrate nearly two meters (six feet) of concrete. Not much use for that in urban warfare. But such a capability is very useful for taking out underground installations, particularly the entrances and air intakes. North Korea, for example, has twenty airfields with underground hangars for the aircraft. Usually tunneled into a nearby hill or mountain, the underground hangar allows fighters and bombers to quickly taxi out onto the runways and take off. Since North Korea doesn’t have that many operational warplanes, it’s believed that some of these “airfields” actually have long range rockets and ballistic missiles, mounted on trailers equipped to erect the missile into launch position and fire it off, in the underground hangars. The trailers are hauled out of the tunnels, onto the air field, the missile fired, and then the trailer is taken back inside to be reloaded. The North Koreans also have hundreds of other, smaller, underground facilities, close to the South Korea border, containing artillery and rocket launchers. These weapons are meant to be quickly hauled out and fired south.

That’s where the SDB comes in, but the U.S. Air Force isn’t saying much about it. The SDB would be the ideal weapon for launching a surprise attack on North Korean underground facilities, both the airfield hangers and the artillery bunkers. American B-2 and F-22 aircraft can dodge North Korea radar and drop a lot of SDBs all at once. A B-2 can carry over 200 SDBs. An F-22 can carry eight, and still protect the B-2s against any North Korean fighters that might have been in the air at the time of the attack. A half dozen B-2s carry over 1,200 SDBs, which is sufficient to cripple North Korean air defenses and twenty key air bases. A few dozen F-22s carry another 300 SDBs to hit smaller, spread out targets. The SDBs not only shut down the entrances to the hangars, but also blow deep holes in the airfields. While North Korea has thousands of troops trained and equipped to quickly come in and clear the hangar entrances and repair the airfields, they are not quick enough to do so before unstealthy B-1s and B-52s come in with more smart bombs (and cluster bombs, carrying thousands of small booby traps, that explode when stepped on or rolled over by vehicles or engineering equipment).

UPDATE 1 (2011-4-15): The Kangda-ri AFB* (Thunderbirds Runway) is slowly expanding.

In the Google Earth image above (dated October 3, 2009), I have outlined the runway infrastructure in yellow.  The northern most runway is new but displaces and older highway airstrip. A bridge is under construction which would link the new runway with the one that passes through the mountain.

The main runway is unchanged in length since the previous image was taken in December 2007.  The secondary runway is appx 1920 meters long.

The construction site is receiving electricity from a nearby substation just northwest of the facility.  Currently the power cables are above ground and cross the runway (in green).

There is a similar facility in Onchon on the DPRK’s west coast.  You can find a good description of it in The Armed Forced of North Korea.

* I use the name “Kangda-ri” AFB because this was the name Joseph Bermudez gave to the original highway strip in The Armed Forced of North Korea.

**This picture was picked up by Radio Free AsiaYonhap, and the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time.

ORIGINAL POST (2009-12-17): Although KCNA has not reported on it, the KPAF is making slow but steady progress on its east coast “Thunderbirds runway” just southwest of Wonsan (location here).  Construction had begun by Nov 11, 2002 when the image below was captured:

thunderbirds-runway-1-thumb.jpg

At the time this photo was taken the facility was in the early phases of construction, and the runway measured just over 1,500 m (According to Google Earth).  In fact the only way I could be sure it was a runway was because there was already a similar facility on the west coast–north of Nampo at Onchon AFB (Located here).  As an aside, if you would like to learn more about the Onchon AFB, Joseph Bermudez offers some information in The Armed Forced of North Korea.

Well, here is how the place looked December 24, 2007:

thunderbirds-runway-2-thumb.jpg

The runway foundation now extends nearly 2,450 m and we can see the outline of a functional runway appear.  The runway foundation is probably constructed from materials that are mined from the tunnels they are digging into this mountaion.  I am sure there is someone out there more qualified than I to calculate the size of the underground facility based on the amount of rubble they have used on the runway.

The rate of progress is surprisingly slow which is also evidence (though not definitive) that much of this work is being done manually.  At this pace lets hope they finish by 2012.

 

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DPRK-ROK aviation hotline restored

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

According to the New York Times:

North and South Korea reopened one of the three severed hot lines between them on Monday in response to a request from the North, its first apparent outreach since the youngest son of the leader, Kim Jong-il, was unveiled as his successor.

The reopened hot line connects the principal international airports — Pyongyang in the North and Incheon in the South — and a test call was conducted late Monday morning, the Unification Ministry said through a spokesman in Seoul.

Another government official here said Monday that North Korea had approached the South about reopening the hot line, which was severed in May following the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, in March.

Relations between the Koreas have been badly strained since the Cheonan sinking, which killed 46 sailors. The South has blamed the incident on a North Korean torpedo attack; the North has denied any involvement.

It was not immediately clear whether the renewal of the airspace hot line was an authentic diplomatic entreaty from the North or merely a matter of practicalities. Analysts continue to look for signs of a possibly new foreign policy approach from the North now that Kim Jong-un, Mr. Kim’s Western-educated son, has been given powerful posts in the military and the Workers’ Party.

Commercial aircraft using South Korean airports were still avoiding North Korean airspace, said Lee Jong-joo, an official with the Unification Ministry, adding that the South Korean government was still considering whether to remove that ban.

In May, the nuclear-armed North severed all three hot lines that connect the countries, which remain in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, and a formal peace treaty remains elusive.

The principal hot line is located at Panmunjom, the so-called truce village on the highly militarized border. A South Korean government official on Monday described that link as “kind of the official one, used for all official messages.” The official said the North had “unilaterally shut down” that line in May and has not indicated if or when it might reopen.

The North also closed down a naval hot line intended to prevent clashes near its disputed sea border with the South. That link, which remains closed, was established in 2004 after deadly naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

With the hot lines closed, communications between the two governments have been basically conducted through their jointly operated industrial park in Kaesong, located inside North Korea. The South Korean government does not have an official office at Kaesong, but diplomatic messages are routinely passed there.

This story does not explain what two naval centers are connected by the inter-Korean naval hotline. If a reader is aware what organizations are connected, I would appreciate knowing so I can map the hotline on Google Earth.

Read the full story here:
North and South Korea Restore Aviation Hotline
New York Times
Mark McDonald
10/17/2010

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