North Korea has announced the launch of a new nuclear attack submarine, which it has been developing for several years. This move is seen as a crucial step in leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to build a nuclear-armed navy that can counter the United States and its Asian allies.
The vessel, named “Hero Kim Kun Ok,” is designed to launch tactical nuclear weapons from underwater. However, the exact number of missiles it can carry and fire has not been specified.
During the launching ceremony and an onboard inspection, Kim expressed satisfaction that North Korea now has its own nuclear attack submarine to counter the advanced naval assets of the United States. In July, the U.S. docked a nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarine in South Korea for the first time since the 1980s.
In addition to the nuclear attack submarine, North Korea is also pursuing a nuclear-propelled submarine and plans to remodel its existing submarines and surface vessels to be capable of handling nuclear weapons.
Prior to this announcement, North Korea had been testing various missiles designed for launch from submarines as part of its effort to have the ability to conduct nuclear strikes from underwater. This would enhance its deterrent by ensuring a survivable capability to retaliate after absorbing a nuclear attack on land.
By adding ballistic missile submarines to its arsenal, North Korea would pose a maritime threat in addition to its growing collection of solid-fuel weapons fired from land vehicles. These weapons are designed to overwhelm missile defenses in South Korea and Japan, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed.
However, it would require significant time, resources, and technological improvements for North Korea to build a fleet of submarines that can travel quietly in seas and reliably execute attacks, according to analysts.
The report of the submarine launch comes amid speculation that Kim is preparing to visit Russia soon for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, which could focus on North Korean arms sales to refill Russian reserves drained by its war on Ukraine. In exchange for providing Russia with artillery shells and other ammunition, North Korea could seek badly needed economic aid and advanced weapons technologies, including submarine-launched ballistic missile systems, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and military spy satellites.