North Korea unveils first tactical, nuclear-armed sub, Kim Jong Un watches on

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North Korea launched its first operational “tactical nuclear attack submarine” and assigned it to the fleet that patrols the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan, state media said. Submarine No. 841 – named Hero Kim Kun Ok after a North Korean historical figure – will be one of the main “underwater offensive means of the naval force” of North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un said at the launch ceremony.

The vessel appears to be a modified Soviet-era Romeo-class submarine, which North Korea acquired from China in the 1970s and began producing domestically, news agency Reuters reported.

Vann Van Diepen, a former US government weapons expert who works with the 38 North project in Washington, said, “When this thing is field deployed, it’s going to be quite vulnerable to allied anti-submarine warfare. So I think from a sort of hard-headed military standpoint this doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

At the launch ceremony, Kim Jong Un said that arming the navy with nuclear weapons was an urgent task as he promised more underwater and surface vessels equipped with tactical nuclear weapons for the naval forces, news agency KCNA reported.

“The submarine-launching ceremony heralded the beginning of a new chapter for bolstering up the naval force of the DPRK,” KCNA said.

North Korea plans to turn other existing submarines into nuclear armed vessels, Kim Jong Un said.

“Achieving a rapid development of our naval forces … is a priority that cannot be delayed given … the enemies’ recent aggressive moves and military acts,” the North Korean leader said in a speech, in a apparent reference to the United States and South Korea.

North Korea drew condemnation from Japan as chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, “North Korea’s military activity is posing graver and more imminent threat to our country’s security than before.”

Does North Korea have more submarines?

North Korea has about 20 Romeo-class submarines, powered by diesel-electric engines but obsolete by modern standards. In 2019 state media showed Kim Jong Un inspecting a previously unreported submarine built under “his special attention” that would operate off the east coast. North Korea has a large submarine fleet but only the experimental ballistic missile submarine 8.24 Yongung is known to have fired a missile.