North Korea likely will test a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in the near future. Pyongyang recently introduced a ballistic missile submarine that it claims can launch tactical nuclear weapons. The new North Korean submarine is based on the 1950s-era diesel-electric Soviet Romeo-class submarine.
North Korea launched the No. 841 Hero Kim Kun Ok tactical ballistic missile submarine on Sept. 6 at the Sinpo South Shipyard. Leader Kim Jong Un was in attendance. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) noted in its Beyond Parallel online publication that heightened speculation suggests Kim may request modern SLBM and ballistic missile submarine technology from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Kim Jong Un Hails Boomer Launch
Kim hailed the submarine launch as heralding North Korea’s arrival as a maritime power, the state Korean Central News Agency reported. He called arming his navy with nuclear weapons a “a crucial requirement for building the revolutionary armed forces” and said his navy had a “strategic duty” to “transfer … underwater and surface vessels equipped with tactical nuclear weapons.”
The regime posted photos of the submarine at the storage pier at the shipyard. CSIS noted the boat appeared ready for a shakedown cruise the next day.
“The submarine is believed to be the long-awaited modified ROMEO-class submarine, sometimes called the SINPO-C Class, which was first revealed to the public during Kim Jong-un’s visit to the new construction hall at the Sinpo South Shipyard in July 2019. The reporting in 2019 referred to the modified ROMEO-class submarine as a ‘newly built submarine,’ consistent with today’s reporting of the Hero Kim Kun Ok,” CSIS said.
The missile sub is believed to carry Pukguksong-1 (KN-11) land attack missiles and could be fully operational within two years. It carries its missiles in the sail like the Soviet Golf-class submarines built during the 1950s and 1960s. The missile section carries six smaller tubes and four larger ones.
North Korea Looks to Develop SLBM Capabilities
It might not look like much, but the vessel gives the North Koreans practice with operating a ballistic missile submarine.
Having an SLBM capability gives the North Koreans a degree of invisibility should the regime decide to launch a nuclear strike against the U.S. The U.S. Navy no doubt will keep a close eye on the North Korean developments with its fleet of fast-attack submarines.
“When such a test will take place is unclear. For example, the SINPO-class ballistic missile submarine was first observed in satellite imagery in July 2014. The vessel was then used for a test of the Pukguksong-1 (KN-11) on November 28, 2015, approximately a year and a half after its initial observation. Although North Korea claims to have conducted a test of the Pukguksong-1 with the SINPO-class submarine earlier in May 2015, it is widely believed that the May test was a basic at-sea ejection test conducted from a submersible test stand barge,” CSIS said in its assessment.
“Given that North Korea is known to have 17 to 20 ROMEO-class submarines, one of which has now been modified to become the Hero Kim Kun Ok, it may choose to continue to produce similarly modified submarines, modify the current vessel further by extending it, design an entirely new class of submarine, or a combination of these options.”
This gives North Korea greater stealth and an increased ability to intimidate its enemies, including the United States and Japan.
John Rossomando is a defense and counterterrorism analyst and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.