North Korea unveils new submarine with nuclear strike capability

North Korea has announced the launch of a new submarine that it claims can carry out both preemptive and retaliatory nuclear strikes, in a move that could escalate tensions in the region and beyond.

Kim Jong Un attends launch ceremony

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, attended the launch ceremony of the new submarine at the Sinpho shipyard on the east coast of the country on Wednesday, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korea unveils new submarine with nuclear strike capability
North Korea unveils new submarine with nuclear strike capability

The submarine, named “Hero Kim Kun Ok” after a female guerrilla fighter who fought against Japanese colonial rule, was described by Kim as a “Korean-style tactical nuclear attack submarine” that would perform its combat mission as one of the core underwater offensive means of the naval force of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the official name of North Korea.

Kim said that the new submarine would herald “the beginning of a new chapter for bolstering up the naval force of the DPRK” and that there was no room to step back in the drive for the expansion of the naval vessel-building industry.

He also vowed to “further strengthen the state nuclear deterrence” and “reliably safeguard the security and sovereignty” of the country.

Submarine’s capabilities remain unclear

The KCNA report did not provide any details on the size, design, or specifications of the new submarine, nor did it show any images of it. It also did not mention whether the submarine had been tested or was operational.

However, some experts have expressed skepticism about North Korea’s claims of having a submarine capable of launching nuclear weapons.

Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tweeted that he doubted that North Korea had a “tactical nuclear attack submarine” and that it was more likely a conventional diesel-electric submarine with some modifications.

He also said that North Korea’s existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) were too large to fit into a conventional submarine and that it was unlikely that North Korea had developed a miniaturized SLBM.

Other analysts have suggested that North Korea may have upgraded its existing Gorae-class submarine, which is believed to be capable of carrying one or two SLBMs, or built a new larger submarine based on its design.

Submarine launch coincides with anniversary

The launch of the new submarine coincided with the 75th anniversary of North Korea’s founding, which is celebrated on September 9. North Korea often uses such occasions to showcase its military achievements and send messages to its adversaries.

The submarine launch also came amid stalled talks between North Korea and the United States over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. The last summit between Kim and former President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019 ended without an agreement, and no official dialogue has taken place since then.

North Korea has also expressed frustration with South Korea’s alliance with the United States and its participation in joint military exercises. In June, North Korea blew up a joint liaison office with South Korea near the border, and in August, it rejected an offer from Seoul to send humanitarian aid amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The submarine launch could be seen as a way for North Korea to increase its bargaining power and pressure on Washington and Seoul, as well as a demonstration of its determination to pursue its nuclear ambitions despite international sanctions and isolation.

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