North Korea has launched its first operational “tactical nuclear attack submarine” and assigned it to the fleet that patrols the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan, state media said on Friday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who attended the launch ceremony on Wednesday, said arming the navy with nuclear weapons was an urgent task and promised to transfer more underwater and surface vessels equipped with tactical nuclear weapons to the naval forces, news agency KCNA said.
“The submarine-launching ceremony heralded the beginning of a new chapter for bolstering up the naval force of the DPRK,” KCNA said, using the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Submarine No. 841 -- named Hero Kim Kun Ok after a North Korean historical figure -- will perform its combat mission as “one of core underwater offensive means of the naval force” of North Korea, Kim said.
Analysts first spotted signs that at least one new submarine was being built in 2016, and in 2019 state media showed Kim inspecting a previously unreported submarine that was built under “his special attention” and that would be operational in the waters off the east coast.
State media at the time did not describe the submarine’s weapons systems or say where and when the inspection took place, but analysts said the apparent size of the new vessel indicated it was designed to carry missiles.
It was not immediately clear what missiles the new submarine would be armed with. North Korea has test fired a number of long-range submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), as well as short-range SLBMs and cruise missiles that can be fired from submarines.
It is also unclear whether North Korea has fully developed the miniaturized nuclear warheads needed to fit on such missiles. Analysts say that perfecting smaller warheads would most likely be a key goal if the North resumes nuclear testing.
North Korea has a large submarine fleet but only the experimental ballistic missile submarine 8.24 Yongung (August 24th Hero) is known to have launched a missile.
Tal Inbar, a senior research fellow at the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said the submarine’s huge sail appeared to have room for both ballistic and cruise missiles.
“It won’t be long before we will see it launch missiles,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.