North Korea’s latest nuclear provocation is a low-cost way to continue its attempts at terrorizing the world, and the West. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s hereditary dictator heralded the completion of what the country calls a “tactical nuclear attack submarine,” expanding its potential nuclear threat to include submarine-based ballistic missiles.
The Stalinist dictatorship’s latest weapon system comes amid North Korea’s announcement that he is prepared to resign the country to live forever with U.S.-led sanctions. Kim believes nuclear weapons development will still allow North Korea to develop economically. In a naval ceremony, Kim appeared at the country’s Sinpho shipyard to announce its new tactical nuclear submarine.
Some sources allege that the new submarine isn’t new at all, but rather a conversion from an existing Soviet-built Romeo-class diesel-electric submarine. Either way, the North Korean government claims it is ready for ““both preemptive and retaliatory strikes” and can counter American and South Korean “invasion fleets” with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
The new submarine was named Hero Kim Kun Ok, after the North Korean sea story that says Kim Kun Ok led a maritime operation during the 1950-1953 Korean War that sank the USS Baltimore. According to the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, the Baltimore was a heavy cruiser that fought in World War II, but was decommissioned in 1947.
The North Korean Navy does not get as much attention from Western intelligence because it doesn’t get much attention from the North Korean government. It is largely considered a riverine fleet, or “brown water” navy. Although it is comprised of hundreds of vessels, the Korean People’s Navy is mostly midget submarines, landing craft and Soviet-made Romeo-class submarines. Many of the ships in its fleet are believed to be inoperable due to age and poor maintenance.
North Korea’s Navy is also inherently split in two, with an East Coast squadron and a West Coast squadron operating within the North Korean government’s declared 50-mile exclusion zone. Since the state of its naval forces is so limited, neither side is able to support the other during wartime.
Kim Jong-Un inspected this new Romeo-class sub while it was being built in July 2019. In his speech at the presentation of the new submarine, he specifically detailed North Korea’s new nuclear weapons strategy. Calling it a “low-cost ultra modernization strategy,” Kim said his plan was to “remodel existing medium-sized submarines into offensive ones loaded with tactical nuclear weapons to play an important role in the modern warfare.”
“There is no room to step back in the drive for the expansion of the naval vessel-building industry as it is the top priority task to be fulfilled without fail,” Kim reportedly said, adding that his goal was to turn his country into an advanced maritime power… within five to ten years.”
While North Korea has conducted submarine-based missile tests before, it has never conducted tests from this particular platform before, according to reporting by the Washington Post. David Schmerler, a weapons expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told the Post the sub “appears to have two distinct sizes of launch hatches, indicating that the submarine might be capable of launching two distinct types or sizes of SLBMs.”
If the Kim Kun Ok is successful, it could give North Korea a longer range for its nuclear arsenal, a range that is currently unknown by U.S. and South Korean intelligence.