North Korea unveils missile-armed submarine

Photo: Korean Central News Agency

Early September saw a ceremony at the Pong Dae Submarine Factory in Sinpo Shipyard wherein North Korea’s newest submarine was unveiled.

Described by official North Korean sources as a “tactical nuclear submarine”, Hero Kim Kun-ok is actually a radically converted Soviet-designed Romeo-class diesel-electric attack submarine. Submarines of this type, constructed either in China or indigenously, have been operated by the North Koreans for many years.

It is likely that the design draws in part on that of the old Russian Golf-class submarines, which also featured sail-mounted missile launch tubes. North Korea bought 10 of these vessels at scrap value in 1993.

The submarine’s most striking feature is the large extension aft of the sail to accommodate 10 missile launch tubes. Another major modification is the fitting of diving planes to the sail. Analysts believe that the boat will be equipped with indigenous, nuclear warhead-capable Pukguksong-1 KN-11 land attack missiles and could be operational within two years.

This latest addition to the Korean People’s Army Navy, coming shortly after the heavily-publicised commissioning of a new missile-armed corvette, further emphasises Pyongyang’s shift towards a new maritime strategy, aimed at enabling it to strike prospective foes from seaward rather than to try to fend off a land-launched attack.

This shift is likely driven primarily by concerns over the growing closeness of South Korean, Japanese, and United States defence relationships. It might also represent an attempt to boost national morale as the North Korea goes through hard economic times.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritime's resident maritime security expert and columnist.