North Korea says it has launched a new type of submarine that could be armed with tactical nuclear weapons. The state news agency KCNA reports that ruler Kim Jong Un spoke of a “push for the future nuclear armament of the navy” at the ceremonial unveiling that took place on Wednesday.
The largely isolated country plans to convert its existing underwater vehicles into nuclear-armed attack submarines. In addition, the construction of nuclear-powered submarines will be accelerated. How the submarine “No. 841” is actually armed remained open. It should patrol the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, it said.
Submarine with ten launch tubes
According to South Korean media, the first images from KCNA reveal ten launch tubes that could be intended for so-called submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). North Korea is prohibited from launching ballistic missiles – including for test purposes – by UN resolutions. Depending on their design, such missiles can also be equipped with nuclear warheads.
Some experts have already suggested that the latest launch could simply be a PR maneuver by Pyongyang. According to Joseph Dempsey, researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, submarine “No. 841” is not a new ship. “This is the same – albeit extensively modified – submarine that North Korea showed us in July 2019,” Dempsey wrote on the online service class, originally designed in the 1950s,” said Dempsey.
Readiness of North Korea’s submarines questionable
According to the US-based think tank Nuclear Threat Initiative, North Korea has between 64 and 86 submarines, making it one of the largest underwater fleets in the world. However, given the age of the boats, experts doubt that they are all operational.
Kim repeatedly threatens military escalation in the region. He has announced that he will expand his own nuclear arsenal “exponentially”. The United States and South Korea say they expect North Korea to test a nuclear weapon in the near future. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Jakarta, Indonesia on Thursday and called on the government in Beijing to do more to combat North Korea’s nuclear threat.
jj/fab (dpa, afp, rtr)