North Korea said it has launched its new submarine capable of nuclear attack, after years of development.
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.
The country’s leader, Kim Jong Un described the milestone as crucial in his efforts to build a nuclear-armed navy to counter the United States and its Asian allies.
Based on photos by North Korean state media, it’s likely the submarine is the same one Kim inspected in 2019 while it was under construction. At the time, experts assessed it as an effort to convert an existing Romeo-class submarine.
The submarine appears to have at least 10 launch tubes, four of them apparently larger than the other six that are possibly designed for missiles.
But the South Korean military says they don’t believe everything that comes out of North Korea insisting that North Korea was exaggerating the submarine’s capabilities. The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North would have needed to increase the size of the bridge and other parts of the original vessel to accommodate missile launch systems, but that the appearance of the new submarine suggested that it could “not be operated normally.”
“There are signs of deception or exaggeration,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, without elaborating.
In recent years, North Korea tested a variety of missiles designed to be fired from submarines as it pursued the ability to conduct nuclear strikes from underwater.
Satellite photos taken just before 8 a.m. local time Thursday, September 6 by Planet Labs PBC, showed the submarine alongside a dock. The submarine appeared to bear the red-white-and-blue bunting seen in photographs released by North Korean state media on Friday. Other details of the state-released photographs matched known features surrounding the facility.
In speeches at the vessel’s launching ceremony, 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.