Analysts say the size of the new submarine suggests it has been designed to potentially carry ballistic missiles. North Korea has claimed to have tested submarine-launched ballistic missiles in the past.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a newly built submarine facility on Tuesday, prompting speculation of renewed development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program.
During the visit, he ordered officials to further bolster national military capabilities, according to state media.
Kim reportedly expressed “great satisfaction” with the vessel upon being briefed about its operational and tactical data and weapon systems, stressing the “need to steadily and reliably increase the national defense capability by directing big efforts to the development of the naval weapons and equipment such as submarine.”
It was not revealed where the inspection took place, but the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the submarine’s operational deployment “is near at hand.”
The new submarine comes despite continuing nuclear diplomacy with the US and repeated overtures that the country might be willing to abandon its nuclear program in return for political and economic benefits.
US President Donald Trump met for the third time at the Korean border late last month and agreed to resume nuclear negotiations.
However, the country warned last week that it may resume nuclear and missile tests after a 20-month hiatus in protest of planned military drills between the United States and South Korea.
In the past, North Korea claimed to have successfully test-fired ballistic missiles from submarines, though actual operational capabilities are speculated to be a long way off.
Analysts said the apparent size of the new submarine indicated that it was designed to eventually carry missiles.
“We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine — much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the U.S.-based Federation of American Scientists, told Reuters news agency.
The country maintains one of the world’s largest submarine fleets, but it is aging and may not be entirely operational.
Source: aw/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)