N. Korea unveils new ‘tactical nuclear attack submarine’

September 8, 2023

North Korea has launched a newly built “tactical nuclear attack submarine” capable of carrying out an underwater nuclear attack, with leader Kim Jong-un vowing to “further strengthen the state nuclear deterrence,” the North’s state media said Friday.

The launching ceremony for the submarine, held Wednesday, was attended by the North Korean leader ahead of the country’s 75th founding anniversary, which falls on Saturday, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“The submarine-launching ceremony heralded the beginning of a new chapter for bolstering up the naval force of the DPRK and made clearer the steadfast will of the WPK and the government of the DPRK to further strengthen the state nuclear deterrence both in quality and quantity and by leaps and bounds for regional and global peace and security,” the KCNA said, referring to the ruling Workers’ Party (WPK).

DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Named the Hero Kim Kun Ok, the tactical nuclear attack submarine No. 841 — the first of its kind — will “perform its combat mission as one of the core underwater offensive means of the naval force” of the North.

“The fact that the nuclear attack submarine, considered a symbol of invasion against our republic for decades, now symbolizes our power that terrifies the shameless enemies and that it is a new attack submarine of our own style unseen by the world, is truly something welcomed by all our people,” Kim said during his speech, hinting that the latest move was aimed at countering U.S. nuclear-powered submarines.

Calling it an “urgent task of the times” to arm the navy with nuclear weapons, Kim urged the swift transfer of “underwater and surface vessels equipped with tactical nuclear weapons” to the Navy.

He also announced the country’s plans to build more submarines, including a nuclear-powered submarine.

“Today’s launching ceremony will shoulder no less burden for our enemies than building a nuclear-powered submarine,” Kim said.

He then stressed that the rapid development of the naval force is the “top priority” for national defense, given the geopolitical situation, as well as “recent aggressive attempts by the enemies.”

Initial photos released by the KCNA suggest the latest submarine is equipped with ten missile tubes that can likely fire submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), though the reclusive North has not provided any details. A military source said the North appears to have modified a Romeo-class submarine, which is not capable of carrying an SLBM launcher.

The submarine is also presumed to be capable of launching the “Haeil,” the North’s first-ever nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle unveiled last March.

An official in South Korea’s military, however, raised questions about the capabilities of the North’s new submarine.

“An analysis of the external features of the North Korean submarine so far shows that parts of it have been enlarged to carry a missile,” an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) told reporters.

“But it is assessed that (the submarine) is not in the form of being capable of normal operation,” the official said, adding the military is looking into signs of the North’s possible exaggeration.

The JCS official said the military has been tracking the North’s building of the submarine in close coordination with the United States, adding Seoul and Washington will closely monitor additional activities and maintain a firm readiness posture based on the ability to overwhelmingly respond to provocations.

The ceremony comes as North Korea has been bolstering its military cooperation with Russia and China in the wake of growing trilateral security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. It also comes amid reports Kim may travel to Vladivostok, Russia, next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discuss a possible arms deal.

Seoul’s spy agency earlier said Russia had proposed conducting three-way naval exercises with North Korea and China in late July.