North Korea has launched its first "tactical nuclear submarine" and assigned it to the fleet that patrols the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, Reuters and BTA reported, citing North Korean state media.
Submarine No. 841 - named "Hero Kim Kun Ok" after a North Korean historical figure - will be one of North Korea's main "underwater attack assets of the navy", leader Kim Jong-un said at the submarine's launch ceremony on Wednesday. According to him, arming the fleet with nuclear weapons is an "urgent task". He has promised to transfer more submarines and surface ships equipped with tactical nuclear weapons to the navy, North Korea's KCNA news agency added.
Analysts say the vessel appears to be a modified Soviet-era Romeo-class submarine that North Korea acquired from China in the 1970s and began manufacturing domestically. Its design, with 10 hatches for launch tubes, indicates it is most likely armed with ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, analysts say.
Such weapons would not add much value to the North's more robust land-based nuclear forces because its submarines might not survive as long in a war, said Vann Van Diepen, a former US government weapons expert who works on the "38 North" project in Washington, quoted by Reuters.
"When this thing is deployed in the field, it's going to be quite vulnerable to allied anti-submarine weapons. So I think from a hard military point of view it doesn't make a lot of sense," he adds.
The South Korean military has commented that the submarine does not appear ready for normal operations and that there are signs that North Korea is trying to exaggerate its capabilities.
Analysts first noticed signs that at least one new submarine was under construction in 2016, and in 2019 the North's state media released footage showing Kim inspecting a previously unseen submarine. It is unclear whether North Korea has finished developing the miniaturized nuclear warheads needed to mount submarine-launched missiles.
TASS reports that the submarine is about to be launched into the sea for trials.
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