North Korea has successfully launched its inaugural “tactical nuclear submarine”, with the intention of deploying it in the area between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to reports from Reuters and BTA, citing North Korean state media.
The submarine, designated as Submarine No. 841 and named “Hero Kim Kun Ok” after a historical figure in North Korea, will be a key asset in the country’s underwater military capabilities, as stated by its leader, Kim Jong-un, during the launch ceremony on Wednesday. Kim emphasized the urgent need to arm their fleet with nuclear weapons and pledged to provide more submarines and surface ships equipped with tactical nuclear capabilities for the navy, according to North Korea’s KCNA news agency.
Experts believe that this new vessel is a modified version of the Soviet-era Romeo-class submarine, which North Korea obtained from China in the 1970s and later began manufacturing domestically. Its design, equipped with 10 hatches for launch tubes, strongly suggests that it is armed with ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, analysts say.
However, analysts have expressed skepticism about the actual value of these weapons in comparison to North Korea’s existing land-based nuclear forces. Vann Van Diepen, a former US government weapons expert affiliated with the “38 North” project in Washington, was quoted by Reuters stating that the submarine would likely be vulnerable to countermeasures by allied anti-submarine weaponry and therefore questioned its strategic significance.
The South Korean military has further cast doubt on the submarine’s operational readiness and suggested that North Korea might be exaggerating its capabilities.
Reports of a new submarine under construction were first observed by analysts in 2016, and in 2019, North Korea’s state media released footage showing Kim inspecting a previously unseen submarine. It remains unclear whether North Korea has successfully developed miniaturized nuclear warheads suitable for submarine-launched missiles.According to TASS, the submarine is expected to soon undergo sea trials.