North Korea has made a momentous declaration, confirming the operational readiness of its first submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles. This revelation introduces a less detectable means of launching a nuclear strike, significantly enhancing the country’s military capabilities.
The unveiling ceremony for the “tactical nuclear attack submarine” took place in a ceremony that showcased a revamped Soviet-era vessel equipped with multiple launching tubes. During the ceremony, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, expressed a commitment to retrofitting more submarines in the existing fleet to possess nuclear capabilities. He described this as an “urgent task of the times” to “arm the navy with nuclear weapons.”
However, South Korea’s military remains skeptical about the submarine’s capabilities, suggesting that it “doesn’t appear capable of normal operation.” Concerns have been raised regarding North Korea’s potential for deception and exaggeration.
The United States and its allies have closely monitored North Korea’s efforts to develop submarines capable of launching nuclear and ballistic missiles. While the specific capabilities of this submarine remain undisclosed, there is no evidence of missile test launches from the vessel.
Images released by state media reveal the submarine’s ten vertical missile launch tubes of various sizes. According to Yang Uk, a weapons expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, the submarine features an “abnormally large” missile launch deck relative to its size, indicating an intention to showcase its nuclear capabilities.
Yang also noted that the submarine’s design might compromise its underwater stealth and maneuverability. However, it aligns with Kim Jong-un’s policy of significantly expanding the nation’s nuclear capabilities.
Notably, the submarine is powered by a diesel engine, requiring frequent resurfacing during long-distance journeys, making it more detectable and less of a threat compared to nuclear-powered submarines, particularly to distant adversaries like the United States.
Despite its limitations, the submarine poses a potential new threat to North Korea’s regional adversaries. It is designed to carry shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles, raising concerns about regional security.