North Korea has been developing a new kind of submarine that can stay underwater for extended periods and is equipped with two to three launch tubes for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), a source connected to North Korea’s national defense disclosed. According to the source, 80% of the construction has been completed, and the new submarine may carry new Pukguksong-3 missiles, a type of missile that the country has never launched before.
If the submarine is completed, it will represent a significant advance toward operational deployment of SLBMs by North Korea. It is difficult to detect signs of launch in the case of SLBMs, and this will certainly further raise the level of threat posed by the country’s nuclear weapons.
It is said that North Korea’s existing SLBM submarines are Sinpo-class (2,000 tons). They are equipped with only one launching tube and can stay underwater at a shallow depth for only several days at a time. According to the source, the new submarine currently under construction is a 3,000 tonner. North Korea aims to have a launching ceremony for the new submarine within the year. The submarine’s engine was reportedly developed and manufactured at a mechanical plant in Ryongchon County, North Pyongan Province in northwestern North Korea. The new submarine is said to be powered by air-independent propulsion (AIP), which enables the vessel to remain underwater for prolonged periods.
In June last year, North Korea fired a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile (2,500 to 4,000 km range). According to the source, at a reception with scientists held immediately after the launch, Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un directed senior officials in charge of the military industry to build a new submarine by Sept. 9, 2018, the 70th anniversary of founding of the nation. If 80% of the construction has already been completed, the submarine will be completed significantly earlier than scheduled.
The DPRK successfully test-launched a Pukguksong SLBM (over 2,000 km range) in August last year. It is suspected the country will continue developing the new SLBM Pukguksong-3. Japan, the U.S., and South Korea are closely monitoring North Korea’s activity for a possible test-launch of the new SLBM.
Last September, “38 North,” a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to the analysis of events in North Korea, pointed out that, based on satellite images, it is possible for the DPRK to be building a new submarine at the shipyard in Sinpo in the eastern section of the country.