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After Kim Jong Un Orders a Nuclear Test: Possible Key Installations and Equipment Identified at North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility
Posted By 38 North On January 24, 2013 @ 8:55 pm In Satellite Imagery | 2 Comments
A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Jack Liu.Summary Based on recent satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility, 38 North has identified installations that may play a critical role in the conduct of a North Korean nuclear detonation. One facility is a command and control bunker located approximately 150 meters from the possible test tunnel entrance that, in addition to providing shelter for all personnel in the area, could contain equipment for controlling the nuclear device, managing instruments for monitoring test data and communicating with higher authorities. In addition, a Russian radio relay system appears to be nearby and may be part of a communications system with Pyongyang. If the command is given to move forward with a nuclear test, while no outside observer knows for sure the train of events that might be set in motion, based on what we do know about practices in other countries that have conducted such explosions, personnel at the site might take the following steps:
Figure 1. Location of Possible Command Bunker at Suspected Nuclear Test Tunnel
Figure 2. Notable Construction Activity in the Bunker Area[caption id="attachment_4421" align="aligncenter" width="553"]  Note: South is up on all three images.[/caption]
Instruments for Monitoring Test Data?Imagery from November and December 2012 reveals possible instrumentation in the bunker area (see figure 3). Previous analysis identified a southern support area closer to the tunnel entrance that may be used for protecting instrumentation and equipment designed to monitor a nuclear device and the status of the tunnel environment. Instrumentation near the command and control bunker—further away from the tunnel—would be used for air sampling and radiation monitoring as well as meteorology. (Other instrumentation inside the bunker would include seismographs for estimating the yield of the explosion.) A peculiar 4 meter by 4 meter square object visible in November 2012 imagery near or on the area of construction on top of the bunker area could be an air vent or, alternatively, might house some special instruments. A photo from December 2012 shows footpaths leading to possible instrumentation sites along the east side and the square object. There is also a cluster of objects on the west side that may be instrumentation and can be accessed from the road. The well-defined footpaths indicate that these sites are visited often. There are also objects or vehicles at the entrance to the bunker over which a tent canopy was erected in December for protection against the weather.
Figure 3. Air Sampling, Meteorology & Radiation Instrumentation in the Bunker Area
Test Communications SystemAnalysis of recent imagery reveals a communications system probably linking the bunker to higher command authorities (see figure 4). Since the order to detonate a nuclear device will be issued by North Korean leadership, reliable communication with Pyongyang is essential. Secure landline communications—either copper or fiber optic cables strung the distance to the test facility—may have been established. Since storms, such as those in the summer and fall of 2012, or technical problems might disrupt those lines, an alternative system would be required to maintain reliable communications. The network—with a signature of three trucks parked in parallel and dish antennas on top of a mast—appears to be a Russian R404 or R414 radio relay system. While the R404 radio relay system has been in widespread use in the former Soviet bloc countries for decades, the R414 is a newer, more capable model. One truck carries the antenna and mast; the second supplies power; and the third contains the communications equipment. Note that the communications system is set up near the entrance to the command bunker to support its operations. In practice, the radio relay system would support mostly command and control operations since its data transfer capability is limited relative to the amount of data required to monitor a test.
Figure 4. Line of Sight Communications Station is Likely a Russian R404 or R414 Radio Relay System[caption id="attachment_4423" align="aligncenter" width="498"]  Photos: (left) twower.livejournal.com; (right) http://militaryforces.ru/weapon-4-83-550.html.[/caption]
The radio relay path must zigzag down the valley to avoid blockage by the mountains. In order to complete the path to a base station that appears to be ten miles away, two mountain-top radio repeater stations are required as well as three line of sight legs. Figure 5 shows the locations of those cleared mountain tops and installations. The elevation profiles for each of the legs allow clear line of sight paths between each node of the radio relay path.
Figure 5. Possible Line of Sight Path to Punggye-ri[caption id="attachment_4424" align="aligncenter" width="498"]  Graphs created by 38 North.[/caption]
Construction began on the mountain-top sites in 2009 and appears to have been completed by 2012. The possible base station, located at Punggye-ri in an administrative/military area at the gateway to the only road leading to the nuclear test area, would contain equipment for completing the communications link with Pyongyang (see figure 6).
Figure 6. Line of Sight Communications System Nodes
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