North Korea’s announcement of a new “Korean-style” tactical nuclear attack submarine has sparked skepticism among analysts and South Korean authorities. The vessel, named “Hero Kim Kun Ok,” was unveiled with great ceremony in the presence of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who touted its capabilities, including the ability to launch preemptive and retaliatory strikes against hostile countries.
However, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staffs (JCS) cast doubt on these claims, stating that the new submarine appeared “not capable of normal operation.” This skepticism comes in the wake of North Korea’s recent claim to have simulated a nuclear missile attack as a warning to the United States.
US experts also expressed reservations about the submarine’s potency and North Korea’s ability to build additional vessels of its kind. While some believe the submarine is conventionally powered but capable of launching ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, others remain uncertain about its ability to deploy submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
The submarine appears to be based on the Soviet-designed Romeo-class submarines, with an estimated 10 missile launch tubes. North Korea has conducted nine SLBM tests since 2015, indicating its interest in this technology. Nevertheless, doubts persist about the submarine’s operational status and the effectiveness of Pyongyang’s submarine-launched missiles.
Furthermore, experts highlight that land-based missiles remain the primary focus of North Korea’s nuclear and missile forces due to their survivability and cost-effectiveness.
While the submarine’s power source remains unclear, Kim Jong Un has expressed a desire for North Korea to develop nuclear-powered vessels. Regardless of its power source, the submarine launch serves as a deterrent message to adversaries like the US and Japan, signaling progress in North Korea’s nuclear program and its capacity for multi-directional strikes.
As North Korea prepares to celebrate its 75th founding anniversary, these developments coincide with increased cooperation between the United States and South Korea, raising tensions in the region. Amid ongoing missile tests and military exercises, questions persist about the true capabilities of North Korea’s new submarine and its role in the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
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