SEOUL, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- North Korea's GORAE-class experimental ballistic missile submarine may be preparing to go to sea.
Writing for 38 North, a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to North Korea issues, analyst Joseph Bermudez stated work on the submersible craft appears to be complete at Sinpo South Shipyard, according to satellite images taken Dec. 9.
The netting that once covered the submarine and a submersible test barge has been removed, and North Korea also appears to have completed work on the land area along the waters, a "reconfiguration [that] will allow the stand to test missiles with engines larger than the KN-11 SLBM last tested in August."
The analyst added the imagery is not yet available to confirm a recent report that North Korea conducted a "cold launch" from a land-based facility in December.
If it did happen the launch "would have taken place from the vertical test stand at Sinpo," Bermudez writes.
What the images from Dec. 9 do show are a "small grouping of equipment of supplies" and the removal of netting that covered the submarine.
"These two factors suggest that both [submarine and submersible test barge] may have recently been at sea or are preparing to go to sea in the near future," the analyst writes.
Those possibilities however do not necessarily mean North Korea is preparing for another test of an SLBM.
"There are numerous reasons why the GORAE or test barge would be put to sea other than testing missiles or their components, such as certification of personnel or validation of repairs. Therefore, based on satellite imagery alone, it is not possible to determine whether a SLBM test is imminent," the analyst stated.
North Korea has previously tested SLBMs in April, July and August, and possibly in December, according to a U.S. official who spoke anonymously to Japanese television network NHK.