What’s Kim up to? Disturbing North Korea satellite images set alarm bells ringing

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The pictures, published by 38 North just days after the website highlighted North Korea’s destruction of a joint liaison office in he town of Kaesong aimed at improving relations with the South, provide more evidence of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s increasingly belligerent attitude. The 38North analysis said recent satellite imagery of the dual-use Wonsan-Kalma International Airport “captured the probable conclusion of a fighter aircraft flight exercise”. Pictures taken on Monday by Planet Labs satellites show an unusually large number of MiG-21, MiG-15 and MiG-17 aircraft, where only a handful are normally parked in view.

Wonsan-Kalma Airfield is reportedly home to a MiG-21 fighter regiment which is comprised of two squadrons and a MiG-15/17 Operational Conversion Unit, or OCU.

Most of the aircraft are rarely observed in the open because the airfield has tunnel aircraft storage located at the southwest end of the airfield.

Normally, five MiG-21s can be seen at the north end of the airfield, while between one and five aircraft can sometimes be observed opposite aircraft shelters at the southern end of the runways.

Analysts Peter Makowsky and Martyn Williams wrote: “On June 21, the five MiG-21s that are normally parked on the north apron were present, and two MiG-21s were adjacent to the 12 aircraft shelters.

“On June 22, the five MiG-21s were again observed at the north apron, but only one MiG-21 was parked near the shelters.

“However, a large array of fighter aircraft was located on the southwest aprons near the aircraft storage tunnels.

“In addition to those MiG-21s and MiG-15s parked in open storage, ten MiG-15s, three MiG-17s, and 13 MiG-21s were on the adjacent aprons, with one additional probable MiG-21 being towed along the connecting taxiway, toward the other aircraft.

“This activity suggests flight operations may have concluded and the aircraft were being prepared to return to tunnel storage.

“The last time this large a number of MiG-15, -17 and -21 aircraft was observed assembled together was during the Combat Flight Contest attended by Kim Jong-un in mid-November of 2019.”

With little in the way of concrete information emerging from the Hermit State, Western experts are frequently forced to speculate about Kim’s motives, and the 36-year-old may be seeking to reassert himself on the world stage after widespread reports in April suggesting he had died.

Kim’s influential sister, Kim Yo-jong, last week warned of retaliatory measures against South Korea that could involve the military, without elaborating.

However, the official KCNA news agency today reported the country had decided to suspend military action plans against South Korea, with a report suggested North Korean troops were taking down loudspeakers recently reinstalled at the fortified border.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a video conference meeting of the ruling party’s Central Military Commission on Tuesday, where members “took stock of the prevailing situation” before deciding to suspend the military plans, the report said, without elaborating.

The committee also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported, in a remark which could be interpreted as a precursor for more missile tests.

A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said it is monitoring the situation and had no change in its stance that inter-Korean agreements should be kept.

The ministry also confirmed reports that a number of official North Korea propaganda websites had removed some articles critical of South Korea, though the spokesman said it was unclear why.

North Korea, with its nuclear capability, is widely regarded as posing a major threat to world peace – but efforts to persuade it to denuclearise have so far failed, despite Kim meeting with US President Donald Trump to discuss the issue on three occasions.

Speaking earlier this month, Dr James Hoare, a research associate with the Japan and Korea Section at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, suggested the chances of Kim giving up his nuclear weapons was slim.

He told Express.co.uk: “It’s pretty clear that the North Koreans – and this is me rather than having any particular evidence – will not give up their nuclear weapons.

“They might cap them and stop developing them, but having got this far, they are not going to say ‘Oh yes, come and take it all away, we don’t mind’.

“They are not going to give them up – but they could be persuaded, if the price is right, perhaps a peace treaty.

“But it would not be worth carrying on unless you’ve got something you can still threaten with.

“If they used it I think that would be the end of North Korea.

“But ultimately I suppose the argument would be I suppose ‘if we’re going down we’re going down in a spectacular way’.”

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