North Korea Unveils New Nuclear Attack Submarine Amid Rising Tensions

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On Friday, North Korea announced the launch of a nuclear attack submarine, a development that caps off years of preparation and which has been described by leader Kim Jong Un as a pivotal move in constructing a nuclear-armed navy to contend with the United States and its Asian allies.

In an official announcement from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), it was detailed that the submarine, named “Hero Kim Kun Ok”, is intended to usher in the age of underwater deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. Details regarding the submarine’s arsenal sized, including how many missiles it could potentially carry and launch were notably absent from the announcement.

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In a two-day period encompassing its launching ceremony on Wednesday and an onboard inspection on Thursday, Kim Jong Un expressed satisfaction at attaining a homegrown nuclear attack submarine to rival the advanced naval assets of the U.S. The announcement resonates with an event from July when a nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarine of the U.S. was stationed in South Korea, something that had not occurred since the 1980s.

Furthermore, Kim stated that North Korea is setting its sights on a nuclear-propelled submarine and plans to upgrade its existing surface vessels and submarines to facilitate nuclear weapons. The necessity to create an army capable of wielding nuclear power was emphatically underscored as an “urgent task”.

A review of Kim’s remarks and photographs distributed by the North Korean state media suggests that the newly launched submarine could possibly be identical to the one Kim inspected in 2019 while it was being constructed. At that time, specialists speculated that an existing Romeo-class submarine was undergoing a conversion process. The submarine is theorized to include a minimum of ten launch tubes, four of which appear larger than the others, and might be engineered for launching ballistic and cruise missiles.

North Korea, in the past, had been engaged in testing a variety of missiles with the capacity to be launched from submarines. This was part of their strategy to run nuclear attacks from underwater, theoretically heightening their deterrent by ensuring they could still strike back after enduring a nuclear attack on their mainland.

The addition of ballistic missile submarines constitutes an added maritime menace to North Korea’s growing assemblage of solid-fuel weapons that are fired from land vehicles and designed to overwhelm missile defenses in South Korea and Japan, key U.S. allies which host tens of thousands of U.S. troops.

Creating several submarines that could cruise silently on the seas, carry out reliable attacks, and efficiently deploy resources and technology will no doubt require a significant commitment of time, resources, and technological advancement for the heavily sanctioned nation, according to experts.

Kim Jong Un’s words, quoted by KCNA, illustrated the shift in perspective. What once was merely a symbol of aggression towards their republic has now evolved into the symbol of their revolutionary power, sowing fear in the hearts of their adversaries.

Kim asserted that the menacing appearance of the submarine to his adversaries mirrors that of the nuclear-propelled submarine that North Korea aims to obtain in the future. He stressed the importance of the power system, submergence speed, and the level of navigational equipment as determinants of the submarines’ operational capabilities, although he prioritized the type of weaponry that could be installed as the most critical factor.

In the past, North Korea only had a single submarine known to be capable of launching a missile, but it had a solitary launch tube and was perceived more as a test platform, not an active weapons system.

North Korea maintains a fleet of approximately 70-90 diesel-powered submarines, constituting one of the world’s largest submarine fleets. However, the majority are antiquated and capable of launching only torpedoes and mines, not missiles.

Speculation has arisen that Kim may be preparing to visit Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin which could primarily discuss replenishing the depleting Russian reserves through North Korean arms sales in relation to its war on Ukraine.

The potential of an agreement wherein North Korea provides Russia with items like artillery shells, in return for crucial economic aid and advancements in weapons technologies such as submarine-launched ballistic missile systems, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and military spy satellites, has been suggested by specialists.

According to KCNA, the launch of the submarine coincides with the country’s 75th founding anniversary taking place on Saturday. Celebration plans for the event include a paramilitary parade amongst other festivities.