With Unveiling Of Nuclear-Armed Submarine, North Korea Strengthens Its Maritime Power

Nuclear Submarine North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (second left) inspects a new nuclear-capable attack submarine at an unspecified location in North Korea, September 6, 2023. © KCNA

A report by the North Korean state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said:

The North Korean military has unveiled a newly developed “tactical attack submarine” capable of launching nuclear missiles, with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declaring the weapon would help Pyongyang become an “advanced maritime power.”

Dubbed the “Hero Kim Kun Ok,” the submarine was rolled out at a military ceremony on Wednesday, noting that Kim and a number of top defense officials were present in the event.

The submarine will be “one of the core underwater offensive means of the DPRK naval force” once deployed, Kim said. He added that the development was part of a “strategic and tactical plan to continuously enhance the modernity of underwater and surface forces, and push forward with the nuclear weaponization of the Navy.” Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the official name of the country known as North Korea.

Kim went on to hail the scientists, researchers and industrial workers involved in the submarine project, saying they were part of a “great cause of building an advanced maritime power.”

During a separate event on Thursday, Kim inspected the new sub in order to “acquaint himself with its weapon system and underwater operation capability,” according to KCNA. The agency said the vessel would be assigned to the East Sea Fleet of North Korea’s navy.

In addition to the nuclear-capable submarine, Pyongyang is also working to remodel existing subs to be equipped with atomic weapons, Kim continued, calling the initiative an “urgent task.”

The news comes months after Washington opted to station its own nuclear submarine off the coast of South Korea for the first time since 1981. Though U.S. officials said the deployment was intended to counter “provocations,” Pyongyang warned that the move would only “bring the regional military tension to a more critical state and may incite the worst crisis of nuclear conflict in practice.”

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have steadily escalated in recent months, with U.S. forces engaging in a flurry of military exercises with South Korean and Japanese partners. Pyongyang has responded with dozens of weapons tests, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and has repeatedly slammed the war games as rehearsal for a full-scale invasion.

Seoul And Tokyo

Earlier on Thursday, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo jointly criticized North Korea’s latest missile test, announcing that they would step up missile-tracking cooperation and hold another round of training sometime in the coming weeks.

NK’s Simulated Tactical Nuke Attack

Citing a statement by the Korean People’s Army (KPA) general staff, a KCNA report said on Sunday:

North Korea has announced that its Saturday morning missile launch was in fact a snap “tactical nuclear attack” drill, conducted in response to a major U.S.-South Korean military exercise, which Pyongyang considers to be a rehearsal for invasion.

“A firing drill for simulated tactical nuclear attack was conducted at dawn of September 2 to warn the enemies of the actual nuclear war danger.”

The KCNA reported:

During the drill, “two long-range strategic cruise missiles tipped with mock nuclear warheads were fired in an actual war environment according to rapid approval procedures.”

The report said: the strategic cruise missile-armed KPA unit successfully carried out its nuclear strike mission.

The launch followed another North Korean drill earlier, in which its military simulated a nuclear attack as a “warning” to its southern neighbor in response to what it described as “adventurous and aggressive war exerciaes.”

SK-U.S. War Games

Both nuclear drills came as South Korea and the U.S. concluded the Ulchi Freedom Shield 23 exercises on August 31, involving at least one U.S. B-1B nuclear-capable strategic bomber flying over the Korean Peninsula. South Korea is known as Republic of Korea (ROK).

According to U.S. officials, the war games were aimed at strengthening the “combined defense posture” and “promoting security and stability in Northeast Asia.”

Pyongyang sees the exercises as rehearsals for a pre-emptive strike and invasion, and proof that Washington and Seoul are pursuing hostile policies.

NK’s Nuke Strike Drill

Citing a statement by the KPA general staff, another KCNA report said:

The N Korean military carried out a simulated nuclear attack on S Korea on Wednesday, in response to “adventurous aggressive war exercises” of the government in Seoul with the US.

The KPA “staged a tactical nuclear strike drill simulating scorched-earth strikes at major command centers and operational airfields of the “ROK” military gangsters on Wednessday night.”

The “tactical nuclear-armed unit of the KPA” fired two ballistic missiles and “correctly carried out its mission through air bursts at a preset altitude of 400 meters above the target island,” the statement added.

The drill was undertaken in response to Wednesday’s flight of South Korean fighter jets with U.S. B-1B strategic bombers, which came over from the U.S. as part of the Ulchi Freedom Shield war games. The B-1B Lancer can carry nuclear weapons, and has taken part in drills with S Korea since November 2022.

According to the KPA general staff, the bombers were practicing a “preemptive nuclear strike” against the DPRK.

Pyongyang’s nuclear drill is “aimed to send a clear message to the enemies,” the KPA said, “and make them clearly realize once again the DPRK’s resolute punitive will and substantive retaliation capabilities.”

North Korea has repeatedly accused the U.S. and South Korea of using the joint exercises to practice for a nuclear strike or an invasion. Pyongyang’s defense minister, General Kang Sun-nam, warned earlier this month that a thermonuclear war on the peninsula was almost certain unless the U.S. abandoned its “hostile” behavior.

Seoul and Washington are still technically at war with Pyongyang, since the 1953 armistice merely ended combat operations of the Korean War, but was never followed up by a peace treaty. The U.S. has around 30,000 troops garrisoned in S Korea.

NK Navy To Receive Nukes

Another KCNA report said:

N Korea is set to equip some of its naval vessels with atomic weapons, the country’s leader has said, vowing to make the navy a central component of Pyongyang’s nuclear deterrent.

Kim Jong-un announced the move during a visit to the North Korean navy headquarters on Sunday, telling sailors that some ships would soon be outfitted with “tactical nuclear weapons” and become part of the DPRK’s “state nuclear force.”

According to a transcript of the speech released by KCNA on Tuesday morning, Kim said: “Our navt should play the biggest role in defending the sovereignty, dignity and development and interests of the DPRK.

The N Korean leader added: “Our navy should play the biggest role in defending the sovereignty, dignity and development and interests of the DPRK. It is only possible to defend the security of the country with a fully prepared naval force.”

Citing several rounds of joint military drills between the U.S., S Korea and Japan in recent months Kim went on to state that “the U.S. imperialists” and its other regional allies are becoming “more frantic than ever before.”

He also cited the permanent deployment of U.S. nuclear assets in waters around the Korean peninsula, and said: “Owing to the reckless confrontational moves of the U.S. and other hostile forces, the waters off the Korean Peninsula have been reduced to the world’s biggest war hardware concentration spots, the most unstable waters with the danger of a nuclear war.”

In addition to stepped-up drills, the US, Japan and South Korea have embarked on other forms of military cooperation over the last year, including information-sharing, joint missile defense projects and even joint nuclear planning. Pyongyang has repeatedly accused the three allies of planning an attack on North Korea, though Washington insists the military actions are purely defensive.

NK Warns Of Thermonuclear War

N Korea recently claimed: Washington’s close military ties with South Korea are bringing the region closer to a nuclear war, Pyongyang claimed on Tuesday.

The KCNA argued that the recent 11-day U.S.-SK exercise ‘Ulchi Freedom Shield’ was a rehearsal for “an actual war to invade the North. The aggressive character of the drill is becoming ever more conspicious.”

N Korea insisted that if during the recent drill the U.S. and its allies implement the principles agreed last week at Camp David, Maryland, “the possibility of outbreak of a thermonuclear wae on the Korean Peninsula will become more realistic.”


U.S. President Joe Biden hosted his S Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Camp David on Friday. In a joint statement, the three leaders vowed to increase military ties and “bring our trilateral security cooperation to new heights. They also condemned Pyongyang’s “unprecedented number” of ballistic missile tests and accused it of cyberattacks.

N Korea traditionally considers U.S. exercises with South Korea and Japan a threat. Washington says the maneuvers are purely defensive in nature.

The drill consisted of over 30 separate exercises, combining computer-simulated wargames with field training. According to the U.S. Navy, the drills will help to “solidify the role of the U.S.-South Korea alliance as the linchpin of peace and security in the region.”

Colonel Lee Sung-jun, spokesman for S Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that the exercise was aimed to “counter the advancing threats from North Korea.”

N Korea has responded to such exercises with its own weapons tests, firing projectiles into the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. The Japanese Coast Guard said that N Korea had notified it about the plan to launch a satellite into space later this month. N Korea’s previous satellite launch in May ended in failure.

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