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North Korea launches tactical nuclear attack submarine in show of force

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North Korea launches tactical nuclear attack submarine in show of force

A newly launched tactical nuclear submarine can be seen in the background as the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lauds the ceremony in this picture released on September 7, 2023. — KCNA
A newly launched tactical nuclear submarine can be seen in the background as the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lauds the ceremony in this picture released on September 7, 2023. — KCNA

North Korea revealed Thursday its new “tactical nuclear attack submarine” in a ceremony presided over by the leader Kim Jong Un as part of strengthening the country’s deterrence and defence capabilities, according to state media KCNA.

During the ceremony, Kim Jong Un presided said Wednesday the new sub was part of a “push forward with the nuclear weaponisation of the Navy in the future”, KCNA reported.

The launching of the submarine, named the Hero Kim Kun Ok, “heralded the beginning of a new chapter for bolstering up the naval force of the DPRK”, according to the report from KCNA.

During the festive ceremony that involved confetti and balloons, Kim stressed “the strategic and tactical plan to continuously enhance the modernity of underwater and surface forces and push forward with the nuclear weaponization of the Navy in the future”, North Korean state media reported.

On Thursday, Kim inspected the submarine as it was preparing for a test cruise.

“Saying that to arm the navy with nuclear weapons arises as an urgent task… he stressed the need to enable the Navy to successfully carry out its strategic duty by hastening the transfer of underwater and surface vessels equipped with tactical nuclear weapons to the Navy”, Kim was quoted as saying by KCNA.

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 miniaturised 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.

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