In a significant development, North Korea has announced the launch of its first operational “tactical nuclear attack submarine,” named Hero Kim Kun Ok. The submarine, designated Submarine No. 841, has been assigned to patrol the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un emphasized its role as a key component of the country’s naval force during the launch ceremony. However, analysts are raising questions about the practicality and effectiveness of such a move.
The Hero Kim Kun Ok Submarine:
Analysts believe that this newly unveiled submarine is a modified version of the Soviet-era Romeo-class submarine, which North Korea originally acquired from China in the 1970s and subsequently began producing domestically. Notably, it features ten launch tube hatches, suggesting that it may be armed with both ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. However, experts have expressed concerns about the submarine’s aging design, which could make it vulnerable in modern naval warfare scenarios.
Vann Van Diepen, a former U.S. government weapons expert associated with the 38 North project in Washington, points out that the submarine’s limitations, including noise, speed, and range, might undermine its effectiveness in a conflict. He highlights the vulnerability of such submarines to allied anti-submarine warfare.
South Korea’s Response:
South Korea’s military has expressed skepticism about the readiness of the North Korean submarine for normal operations. Additionally, they suspect that North Korea may be exaggerating the capabilities of the newly launched submarine.
North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions:
Kim Jong Un, in his speech during the launch ceremony, reiterated North Korea’s commitment to arming its navy with nuclear weapons. He pledged to introduce more underwater and surface vessels equipped with tactical nuclear capabilities for the naval forces. This move underscores North Korea’s pursuit of bolstering its military capabilities in the face of perceived threats from the United States and South Korea.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs are in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Consequently, the submarine launch has drawn condemnation from South Korea and Japan. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno emphasized the increased threat posed by North Korea’s military activities.
The “Tactical” Designation:
The use of the term “tactical” submarine suggests that this vessel does not carry submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Instead, it is likely equipped with smaller, short-range SLBMs or submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) that can target South Korea, Japan, or other regional locations.
Uncertainty Regarding Miniaturized Nuclear Warheads:
It remains uncertain whether North Korea has developed miniaturized nuclear warheads suitable for such missiles. Perfecting smaller warheads could be a key goal if North Korea decides to resume nuclear testing.
The deployment of North Korea’s tactical nuclear submarine raises concerns in the region and on the international stage. While North Korea continues to advance its military capabilities, questions persist about the practicality and effectiveness of such weaponry. As tensions escalate, the world watches closely, mindful of the potential implications of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.