North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un, whose lineage is well known as the world’s foremost lookers at things, has toured a “newly built” submarine, the country’s state-run media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) wrote in a release.
The KCNA report was light on details, other than that the craft received Kim’s “special attention” and the date it will commence operations in the ocean off the country’s eastern coast “is near at hand.” Kim was quoted as letting little on about the nature of the craft, stating only that “The operational capacity of a submarine is an important component in national defense of our country bounded on its east and west by sea.”
The release did not mention what weapons systems are on board the submarine (and given the unreliable nature of North Korean propaganda, such as the nation’s recent claims to have developed an “ultramodern” “tactical guided” weapon, any information or visuals offered by the KCNA should not be taken at face value anyhow).
North Korea is estimated to have one of the world’s largest submarine fleets with dozens in operation, though it is believed most of them are ageing diesel submarines that would be considered obsolete by world-power standards. According to Reuters, it is only known to have one “experimental submarine capable of carrying a ballistic missile,” though it successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile in 2016 and the newer vessel mentioned in the KCNA report appears to be designed to bolster those capabilities.
“We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine—much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” Federation of American Scientists senior fellow Ankit Panda told Reuters. “What I find significant about the political messaging here is that this is the first time since a February 2018 military parade that he has inspected a military system clearly designed to carry and deliver nuclear weapons.”
“I take that as an ominous signal that we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in U.S. policy with the utmost seriousness,” Panda said, referring to stalled progress in nuclear disarmament talks between the U.S., North Korea, and South Korea. “... This, to my eye, is the submarine that the U.S. intelligence community has been calling the Sinpo-C, a successor to North Korea’s only known ballistic missile submarine.”
North Korea has made significant progress in its nuclear weapons programs and, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, is estimated to have anywhere from 10 to dozens of nukes. In 2017, it tested intercontinental ballistic missiles, and it has more recently begun renewed launches of short-range ballistic missiles. The quality of those missiles and their accuracy is unclear, as is whether it has developed miniaturized nuclear warheads that could reliably be delivered to their destinations and detonated on them.
Its submarine-launched missile programs are further behind, with the Associated Press reporting that “many outside analysts say North Korea likely remains years away from having an operational system.” While Donald Trump and Kim have met on three separate occasions, as of Monday, Reuters separately reported that both sides have yet to propose a hard date for the resumption of serious talks.