North Korea launches tactical nuclear missile submarine dubbed Hero Kim Kun Ok declaring it will become an advanced maritime power
The North Korean military has unveiled a new “tactical attack submarine” capable of launching nuclear missiles, acording to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. Leader Kim Jong-un declared that the weapon will help Pyongyang become an “advanced maritime power,” the agency added.
Submarine No. 841 – named Hero Kim Kun Ok after a North Korean historical figure – will be one of the main “underwater offensive means of the naval force” of North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un said at the launch ceremony on Wednesday.
The submarine will be “one of the core underwater offensive means of the DPRK naval force” once deployed, Kim said. He added that the development was part of a “strategic and tactical plan to continuously enhance the modernity of underwater and surface forces, and push forward with the nuclear weaponization of the Navy.”
People attend what North Korean state media report was the country’s launching ceremony for a new tactical nuclear attack submarine, in North Korea, in this handout image released September 8, 2023. KCNA via REUTERS
Analysts said the vessel appears to be a modified Soviet-era Romeo-class submarine, which North Korea acquired from China in the 1970s and began producing domestically. Its design, with 10 launch tube hatches, showed it was most likely armed with ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, analysts said.
But such weapons won’t add much value to the North’s more robust land-based nuclear forces, because the aging submarines used as the core of the new design are relatively noisy, slow and have limited range, meaning they may not survive as long during a war, said Vann Van Diepen, a former U.S. government weapons expert who works with the 38 North project in Washington.
The designation as a “tactical” submarine suggests it does not carry submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) that can reach the U.S. mainland, but rather smaller, short-range SLBMs or submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) capable of striking South Korea, Japan, or other regional targets, said Choi Il, a retired South Korean submarine captain.
Kim hailed the scientists, researchers and industrial workers involved in the submarine project, saying they were part of a “great cause of building an advanced maritime power.”
During a separate event on Thursday, Kim inspected the new sub in order to “acquaint himself with its weapon system and underwater operation capability,” according to KCNA. The agency said the vessel would be assigned to the East Sea Fleet of North Korea’s navy.
In addition to the nuclear-capable submarine, Pyongyang is also working to remodel existing subs to be equipped with atomic weapons, Kim continued, calling the initiative an “urgent task.”