At a moment North Korea is blasting as 'hypocrisy' the UN Security Council condemnation of its latest short-range ballistic missile test from last week, which interestingly President Biden had merely shrugged off, there's an emerging consensus based on satellite imagery that Pyongyang is likely preparing deployment of a new submarine capable of firing nuclear ballistic missiles.
The submarine is undergoing launch preparations at North Korea's Sinpo shipyard, according to The Telegraph, which writes further, "New satellite images of the shipyard, on the east coast of the peninsula, show that a floating dry dock has been positioned alongside the launch quay for the vast construction hall where the submarine is being completed."
In the summer of 2019 North Korean state media featured pictures of Kim Jong-un inspecting the sub as it was being constructed.
Additionally the report said:
Analysis of the images by experts from The Stimson Center think tank and posted on the 38 North web site suggest the new vessel "may be nearing completion or is ready to be rolled out and launched in the near future".
Earlier this year in January, state media touted the unveiling of a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile which it called "the world's most powerful weapon" at a military parade overseen by Kim Jong-un.
Few details on the missile's capabilities have been given, and while subject of occasional reporting, the new submarine too has been a closely guarded secret. South Korean and US intelligence are said to be "thoroughly monitoring" the progress at the North's Sinpo shipyard.
The analysis site 38 North notes the following in relation to the new satellite imagery:
- Kim Jong Un visited the construction hall at Sinpho on July 23, 2019 to inspect a ROMEO-class submarine being modified to accommodate missile launch tubes.
- The parts yard adjacent to the construction halls, where large parts had been observed during the construction process, has been empty since last summer. This suggests major structural work has been completed.
What is known so far is that the North has lately orchestrated tests to simulate the launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine.
Recent commercial satellite imagery of #DPRK's Sinpho South Shipyard indicates that the floating drydock has been repositioned along the construction hall's quay. Analysis by Jack Liu and Peter Makowsky. @planetlabs https://t.co/YqScL3ctrr— 38 North (@38NorthNK) March 26, 2021
Analysts estimate that "The 2,720-tonne vessel that it is constructing is believed to be designed to carry three ballistic missiles and would theoretically be capable of sailing into the Pacific to threaten US military facilities in Hawaii or even the mainland of the continental US."
No doubt both Washington and regional allies, particularly Japan, would see a nuclear-capable sub deployment as a huge and alarming leap in the North's launch capabilities, given the complete mobility and lack of detection.