SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Friday its new submarine has nuclear attack capabilities after years of development. Leader Kim Jong Un described the milestone as crucial in his efforts to build a nuclear-armed navy to counter the United States and its Asian allies.
The North´s official Korean Central News Agency said the vessel, named “Hero Kim Kun Ok,” is designed to launch tactical nuclear weapons from underwater but did not specify the number of missiles it could carry and fire.
South Korean officials were skeptical that the submarine would work as North Korea described and said it likely wasn´t ready for operational duty, AP reported.
Still, the vessel´s development underscored how the North continues to potentially extend the range of its nuclear arsenal with systems that are harder to detect in advance.
Based on Kim Jong Un´s comments and photos by North Korean state media, it´s likely the submarine is the same one Kim inspected in 2019 while it was under construction. At the time, experts assessed it as an effort to convert an existing Romeo-class submarine.
The submarine appears to have at least 10 launch tubes – four of them apparently larger than the other six – that are possibly designed for missiles.
“This submarine, though heavily modified, is based on 1950s Soviet-origin technology and will have inherent limitations. Nevertheless, in terms of complicating the targeting challenges that the US and its allies will face, the submarine will serve North Korea´s purposes,” said Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.