North Korea Unveils Nuclear Attack Submarine in Escalating Naval Arms Race
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North Korea announced on Friday that it has unveiled a nuclear attack submarine it has been developing for several years, a significant step in its quest to establish a nuclear-armed naval force as a deterrent against the United States and its Asian allies, according to leader Kim Jong Un. The vessel, named “Hero Kim Kun Ok,” is intended for launching tactical nuclear weapons from underwater, though specific details regarding its missile capacity were not provided by North Korea.

South Korean officials expressed skepticism about the submarine’s capabilities and readiness for operational use, suggesting that it may not perform as North Korea claims. Nonetheless, the development of this vessel highlights North Korea’s efforts to enhance its nuclear arsenal, particularly with systems that are more challenging to preemptively detect.

Based on Kim Jong Un’s statements and images released by North Korean state media, it appears that this submarine is the same one inspected by Kim in 2019 during its construction phase. At that time, experts believed it was an attempt to convert an existing Romeo-class submarine. The submarine seems to have at least ten launch tubes, with four of them appearing larger, possibly designed for missiles.

Experts, however, point out that this heavily modified submarine is based on 1950s Soviet-origin technology and has inherent limitations. Nonetheless, it could complicate targeting challenges for the US and its allies. Ballistic missile submarines would add a maritime dimension to North Korea’s growing arsenal of solid-fuel weapons designed to overwhelm missile defenses in South Korea and Japan. Building a fleet of such submarines capable of silent and reliable operations would require substantial time, resources, and technological advancements, given North Korea’s heavy sanctions.

Kim Jong Un expressed satisfaction during the vessel’s launch ceremony and an onboard inspection, emphasizing the importance of acquiring a nuclear attack submarine to counter advanced US naval assets. He also mentioned plans to pursue a nuclear-propelled submarine and retrofit existing submarines and surface vessels to handle nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s military, however, believes that North Korea may be exaggerating the capabilities of the submarine. They suggest that structural modifications to accommodate missile launch systems may impact the submarine’s normal operation.

Kim’s recent focus on strengthening North Korea’s navy could be driven by a desire to expand military cooperation with Russia. There’s speculation that Kim may soon visit Russia for discussions with President Vladimir Putin, potentially involving North Korean arms sales in exchange for economic aid and advanced weapons technologies.

Nuclear-propelled submarines are among the advanced weapons systems Kim seeks to develop to create a credible threat to the US mainland. However, achieving this goal without external assistance in the near term is unlikely. Russian assistance could be beneficial, but it remains uncertain whether Moscow would share such sensitive technology.

In summary, North Korea’s unveiling of the nuclear attack submarine represents a significant development in its pursuit of a credible nuclear deterrent against the US and its allies, though doubts persist regarding its actual capabilities and readiness. The focus on naval expansion may also have diplomatic implications in North Korea’s relations with Russia.

Source: with agencies

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