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North Korea launches new ‘tactical nuclear attack submarine’

North Korea has launched its first “tactical nuclear attack submarine” as part of its efforts to bolster its naval strength, state media said Friday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over the unveiling ceremony on Wednesday and said the submarine was part of a “forward step in naval nuclear armament,” state news agency KCNA reported.

State media footage showed Kim, dressed in a light suit and sun hat, talking to white-uniformed sailors beside the submarine, whose prow was decorated with the North Korean flag.

The launch of submarine No. 841 — named the Held Kim Kun Ok — “heralded the beginning of a new chapter for strengthening the DPRK’s naval power,” said KCNA, referring to the abbreviation of North Korea’s formal name .

Kim said the submarine “will perform its combat mission as one of the main underwater offensive assets of the DPRK’s naval forces,” the agency added.

North Korea will convert its existing submarines into strike craft equipped with nuclear weapons, Kim said.

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On Thursday, KCNA said Kim inspected the submarine as it prepared for a test cruise, going in “to familiarize herself with the weapon system and underwater operational capabilities.”

During the launch ceremony, which involved confetti and balloons, Kim “emphasized the strategic and tactical plan to continuously improve the modernity of the underwater and surface forces,” according to KCNA.

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North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year and failed last month in its second attempt to launch a spy satellite into orbit.

Seoul and Washington have stepped up defense cooperation in response, organizing joint military exercises using advanced stealth jets and strategic US assets, and conducting naval exercises with Japan.

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a US-based think tank, North Korea is estimated to have between 64 and 86 submarines, one of the largest fleets in the world.

However, experts doubt that all of them are operational given their age, NTI said.

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In 2019, Kim was featured in state media inspecting a previously unreported submarine.

“This is the same – albeit more extensively modified – submarine that North Korea showed us way back in July 2019,” Joseph Dempsey, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote on X.

“While North Korea has added a missile compartment and externally mimicked more contemporary design features… (the submarine) at its core is an aging Romeo-class diesel-electric boat originally designed in the 1950s,” he said.

“As a platform, it will have some fundamental limitations and vulnerabilities.”

The new submarine’s capabilities “will not be revolutionary, but will increase the complexity of North Korea’s nuclear threat,” said US-based analyst Ankit Panda.

“Kim Jong-un indicated early in his tenure that he considered the role of the Korean People’s Navy to be important and he occasionally focused on making that known publicly.”

South Korea condemned the submarine launch.

North Korea wasted its scarce resources on futile weapons development while ignoring the living problems of its people, said Kim In-ae, deputy spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

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“Pyongyang must realize its weapons programs and threats…is only endangering their security due to an overwhelming response from the strengthened joint stance of South Korea, the US and Japan.”


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