North Korea had a “plan to remodel existing medium-sized submarines into offensive ones loaded with tactical nuclear weapons to play an important role in the modern warfare,” state media quoted Kim as saying. He described the approach as a “low-cost ultra-modernization strategy.”
The claim was impossible to immediately verify, and North Korea has a track record of boasting about achievements it has not quite attained. But with both its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, it has surprised analysts by overcoming technical challenges to eventually demonstrate credible and operational weapons systems.
NK News, a specialist website based in Seoul, said that the submarine unveiled on Friday appeared to be the one Kim publicly inspected in July 2019 while it was undergoing construction, which was a conversion from an existing Romeo-class submarine.
The submarine was named the Hero Kim Kun Ok, a North Korean naval leader who led an operation that, according to North Korean propaganda, sank the USS Baltimore in 1950, during the Korean War. The USS Baltimore was, in fact, decommissioned in 1947.
North Korean state media said the submarine would “perform its combat mission as one of the core underwater offensive means of the naval force.”
It was launched to celebrate a day known in North Korea as the Day of the Foundation of the Republic, marked on Sept 9.
North Korea has ramped up its weapons tests in the last year, firing powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles potentially capable of reaching U.S. mainland. The country’s space agency last month again attempted to launch a spy satellite allegedly capable of conducting space-based reconnaissance, but it failed.
North Korea is estimated to have about 64 to 86 submarines, including ones capable of launching ballistic missiles, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based watchdog nonprofit. Experts believe some of the submarines are not operational because of their old age.