SEOUL-North Korea has launched its first “tactical nuclear attack submarine”, state media reported Friday, although the South Korean military said the vessel might not be operational.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over the unveiling ceremony on Wednesday, saying the sub was part of a “push forward with the nuclear weaponisation of the Navy”, according to state news agency KCNA.
Images in state media showed Kim, wearing a light suit and sun hat, speaking to white-uniformed sailors next to the submarine, whose bow was decorated with the North Korean flag. The launch of submarine No. 841 -- named the Hero Kim Kun Ok -- “heralded the beginning of a new chapter for bolstering up the naval force of the DPRK”, KCNA said, referring to the abbreviation of North Korea’s formal name. During the launch ceremony, which involved confetti and balloons, Kim said the submarine was “one of the core underwater offensive means of the naval force of the DPRK”.
North Korea will turn its existing submarines into attack vessels equipped with nuclear weapons, Kim said. On Thursday, KCNA said Kim inspected the submarine as it prepared for a test cruise, and entered it “to acquaint himself with its weapon system and underwater operation capability”.
But the South Korean military said Pyongyang’s claims could not be taken at face value.
“Our initial assessment is that it does not look to be operational,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff told AFP. North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year, and last month failed in its second attempt to put a spy satellite into orbit. Seoul and Washington have ramped up defence cooperation in response, staging joint military exercises with advanced stealth jets and US strategic assets, and holding naval drills with Japan.