North Korea Launch Of New "Tactical Nuclear Attack" Submarine Met With Skepticism

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, Sep 08, 2023 - 09:20 PM

North Korea claims to possess its first "tactical nuclear attack submarine" and that the refitted vessel has been floated for the first time in waters off the Korean peninsula on Friday.

"The submarine-launching ceremony heralded the beginning of a new chapter for bolstering up the naval force of the DPRK," state media announced Friday. Kim Jong Un was in attendance for the water launch of diesel-powered submarine with the name "Hero Kim Kun Ok".

Pyongyang says it has nuclear-tipped missiles which are capable of being fired underwater. State media descriptions have said it has ten total missile launch tubes, with four bigger than the others.

The sub will next undergo sea trials. "We are full of determination to continue to further demonstrate how advanced our submarines and surface shops are, and we will continue [the process of] rearming our fleet with nuclear weapons," the Voice of Korea quoted Kim as saying.

Kim touted that the vessel is "equipped with a large number of nuclear delivery means" and capable of "preemptive and retaliatory strikes against hostile countries" - in words no doubt aimed at his archenemies the United States and South Korea.

He also unveiled plans to turn all of the nation's medium-sized subs into nuclear-capable versions, amid rising nuclear tensions and rhetoric with Washington, given that the US has parked its own nuclear-armed sub off South Korea this summer. The USS Kentucky recently docked in Busan port - a first for a US nuclear sub since 1981.

According to the maritime monitoring site Naval News:

The modification to the Romeo class submarine is so extensive that it almost appears to be a new boat. The new missile compartment, with two rows of five missile hatches, is in a section built into the sail. The bow has been shortened, reshaped and the diving planes moved to the sail.

We can speculate that the missiles are the Pukguksong family of submarine launched ballistic missiles. These are between 9.7 and 10.6 meters long and 1.5 and 1.8 meters in diameter depending on the exact version. The missile hatches however appear smaller, either for a shorter ranged ballistic missile first seen in October 2021, or for a cruise missile. North Korea has recently shown the ‘Hwasal-2′ cruise missile which approximates the U.S. Navy’s famous Tomahawk weapon.

It's believed this could be the same submarine in development that was shown off in state media photos starting in 2019. "The nuclear attack submarine, for decades a symbol of aggression against our republic, has now become a symbol of our revolutionary power to strike fear into the hearts of our despicable enemies," Kim said additionally during the launch ceremony Friday.

But since the announcement there's been plenty of skepticism among Western and US defense analysts:

Defense analysts shared doubts that the new submarine would significantly bolster North Korea’s naval threat, saying the Soviet design the submarine is based on is poor and outdated.

“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 U.S. and its allies will face, the submarine will serve North Korea’s purposes,” Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Associated Press.

South Korea's military has also expressed severe doubts, with the country's Joint Chiefs of Staffs (JCS) rejecting Kim's claims, instead saying the new sub appears "not capable of normal operation."

According to another skeptic cited in CNN:

Carl Schuster, a retired US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said the newly launched sub was probably two years away from being fully operational. He said installing and testing the sub’s internal machinery and components would take around 18 months, then there would be up to six months of sea trials and training.

Pyongyang has also for the past month been outraged at growing and ongoing joint US-South Korea military drills over the peninsula, which has included the Pentagon flying B-1B bombers. The timing of the unveiling of the supposed 'nuclear submarine' seems directly related to the war games.