SEOUL, South Korea –
North Korea said Friday it has launched a purported nuclear attack submarine it has been developing for years, a step leader Kim Jong Un described as crucial in his efforts to build a nuclear-armed navy to counter the United States and its Asian allies.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the vessel — named “Hero Kim Kun Ok” — is designed to launch tactical nuclear weapons from underwater but did not specify the number of missiles it could carry and fire.
In his speeches at the vessel’s launching ceremony on Wednesday and an onboard inspection on Thursday, Kim expressed satisfaction that the country has acquired its own nuclear attack submarine to counter the advanced naval assets of the U.S., KCNA said. In July, the U.S. docked a nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarine in South Korea for the first time since the 1980s.
Kim said the country is also pursuing a nuclear-propelled submarine and plans to remodel its existing submarines and surface vessels so that they could handle nuclear weapons, describing the building of a nuclear-capable army as an “urgent task.”
North Korea previously had been testing a variety of missiles designed to be fired from submarines as it pursued an ability to conduct nuclear strikes from underwater, which in theory would bolster its deterrent by ensuring a survivable capability to retaliate after absorbing a nuclear attack on land.
Ballistic missile submarines would also add a maritime threat to the North’s growing collection of solid-fuel weapons fired from land vehicles that are designed to overwhelm missile defences in South Korea and Japan. The two key U.S. allies station tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the region.
It would take considerable time, resources and technological improvements for the heavily sanctioned nation to build a fleet of at least several submarines that could travel quietly in seas and reliably execute attacks, analysts say.
The report came amid speculation that Kim is preparing to visit Russia soon for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that could focus on North Korean arms sales to refill Russian reserves drained by its war on Ukraine.
In exchange for providing Russia with artillery shells and other ammunition, North Korea could seek badly needed economic aid and also advanced weapons technologies, including those related to submarine-launched ballistic missile systems, intercontinental ballistic missiles and military spy satellites, analysts say.