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North Korea unveils strategic nuclear submarine

Posted September. 09, 2023 08:15,   

Updated September. 09, 2023 08:15


On Friday, North Korea declared the successful completion of a submarine with the capability of conducting surprise nuclear strikes underwater. This submarine is seen as a potential threat to South Korea and U.S. military bases in Japan. During the launch ceremony of the inaugural tactical nuclear attack submarine, named 'Hero Kim Gun Ok,' which took place at the Sinpo Shipyard in South Hamkyong Province on Wednesday, North Korean State Affairs Commission Chairman Kim Jong Un stressed the urgency of naval nuclear militarization, asserting that it cannot be delayed any further. He further emphasized their commitment to adopting an advanced power system and unveiled plans to construct a nuclear-powered submarine in the near future. Intelligence agencies in both South Korea and the U.S. have reason to believe that Kim may seek essential technologies related to nuclear-powered submarines, including small nuclear reactors, during his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The summit is expected to be held in Vladivostok, Russia, next week.

North Korea's state-run media, the Korean Central News Agency, has reported constructing and launching a submarine equipped with a total of 10 vertical launch tubes, comprising four large and six small tubes. This configuration allows the submarine to potentially carry up to 10 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The submarine is assessed as the first ballistic missile submarine.

“It is highly likely that improvements have been made to the existing Romeo-class submarine," an official from the Joint Chiefs of Staff said about this new submarine. In July 2019, during Chairman Kim's on-site inspection, images of an enhanced version of the Romeo-class submarine (3,000-ton class) under construction were publicly revealed for the first time. North Korea has now announced the completion of this new submarine, marking the first announcement in four years. “If North Korea's claims hold true, they have acquired a strategic asset capable of executing covert strikes across a wide range of areas in emergency situations," a military source elaborated. "This includes potential targets such as the Yongsan Presidential Office, South Korean military command posts, as well as ports, airports, routes for deploying U.S. reinforcements, and U.S. military bases in Japan.”

However, upon analyzing the new submarine's appearance, military authorities have raised doubts about its practical operational capabilities since the submarine's usable range may be limited due to its subpar diving ability. Some experts speculate that the Romeo class, which is powered by a conventional (diesel) engine, may have been overly upgraded to showcase achievements ahead of the North Korea-Russia summit scheduled for Saturday (North Korea's regime establishment day). This rush may have resulted in the premature unveiling of a submarine with incomplete functionality. A Joint Chiefs of Staff official also expressed doubt, saying, “We believe it is not yet in a state where it can be operated effectively.”

Jin-Woo Shin niceshin@donga.com