MELBOURNE, Australia — North Korea has launched a new ballistic missile submarine believed to be capable of firing both ballistic and cruise missiles.
State media showed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Sept. 6 launch ceremony for the submarine named Hero Kim Gun-ok. The event took place at the Pongdae Submarine Factory located at North Korea’s Sinpo shipyard.
The government has described the boat as a “tactical nuclear attack submarine.”North Korean state media quoted Kim as saying at the ceremony that the country “will accelerate the nuclear armament of the Navy without letup” while also pushing forward a “plan for building nuclear submarines.”
He also reportedly said in his speech that the submarine will be ready to carry out “both preemptive and retaliatory strikes” and is intended to counter U.S. and South Korean “invasion fleets.”
Analysts believe the boat is a rebuilt and modernized Soviet-designed Romeo-class diesel-electric submarine. Joseph Dempsey, a research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said the photos released by North Korean had censored the sub’s propeller area, possibly in a bid to conceal its origins.
Dempsey also believed the newly launched submarine is the same one North Korea showed off during a 2019 visit by Kim to Sinpo. High-resolution imagery released by the government showed a large missile compartment was added to the sail of the submarine, with 10 hatches believed to be for the vertical-launch missile tubes that are visible. The hatches are laid out in two rows of five, with the front four appearing larger than the remaining six.
The former is believed to be for housing submarine-launched ballistic missiles, while the latter are likely to house launch tubes for submarine-launched cruise missiles.
North Korea has previously tested its Pukguksong-1/KN-11 sub-launched ballistic missile. And the country’s naval force is believed to have operated up to 20 Romeo-class boats, although the current state of the rest of the fleet is unknown.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.
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