North Korea says it has deployed a new nuclear submarine to counter US naval power

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Friday it has named a supposed nuclear attack submarine it has been developing for years. Kim Jong Un described this submarine as crucial to his efforts to build a nuclear-armed navy to counter the forces of the United States and its Asian allies.

Korea’s official Central News Agency said the ship, named Hero Kim Kun Ok, was designed to launch tactical nuclear weapons from the water, but did not provide details on the number of missiles it could carry and fire.

In speeches at the ship’s launching ceremony on Wednesday and an inspection aboard a military shipyard on Thursday, Kim expressed satisfaction that the country had acquired its own nuclear submarine to counter the US’s advanced naval assets, KCNA said. In July, the United States 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-powered submarine and plans to convert its existing submarines and surface ships to handle nuclear weapons, calling building a nuclear-capable army an “urgent task.”

Based on Kim’s comments and photos from North Korean state media, it is likely that the new submarine is the same one that Kim inspected during construction in 2019, which experts then described as an attempt to convert an existing Romeo submarine. class rated. The submarine appears to have at least ten launch tubes – four of which are larger than the other six – which may be designed for missile launches.

The South Korean military downplayed the significance of the new submarine and insisted that North Korea was exaggerating its capabilities. The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North needed to enlarge the bridge and other parts of the original ship to accommodate missile launch systems, but the appearance of the new submarine suggested it “could not be operated normally.”

“There are signs of deception or exaggeration,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, without elaborating.

North Korea had previously tested various missiles designed to launch submarines to carry out nuclear attacks underwater, which in theory would strengthen its deterrence by ensuring a survivable ability to retaliate after repelling a nuclear attack on land .

Ballistic missile submarines would also pose a maritime threat to the North’s growing collection of solid-fuel weapons fired from land vehicles and designed to overwhelm missile defenses in South Korea and Japan.

Analysts say it would take a lot of time, resources and technological improvements for the heavily sanctioned country to build a fleet of at least several submarines that could travel quietly and carry out attacks reliably.

“This submarine, although heavily modified, is based on technology of Soviet origin from the 1950s and will have inherent limitations. Still, the submarine will serve North Korea’s goals by further complicating the targeting challenges facing the U.S. and its allies, said Ankit Panda, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Kim has stressed in recent weeks the need to strengthen the country’s navy, a focus that some analysts say may be based on a desire to expand military cooperation with Russia, which has suggested the possibility of joint military exercises between the countries.

There is also speculation that Kim is preparing to visit Russia soon for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin to discuss North Korean arms sales to replenish Russian reserves depleted by the war against Ukraine.

In return for supplying Russia with artillery shells and other munitions, North Korea could receive much-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.

But it is unclear whether Russia, which has always closely guarded its key weapons technologies, even from key allies like China, would be willing to provide large technology transfers to North Korea in exchange for likely limited war supplies.

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