North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear-armed navy took a significant step forward as the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, oversaw the test-firings of new submarine-launched cruise missiles. Kim’s actions sent a clear signal of his intentions to build a nuclear-armed navy.
South Korean authorities detected North Korea firing multiple cruise missiles near a major shipyard that is developing submarines. The North Korean official newspaper featured photos of at least two missiles being fired separately, suggesting that they were launched from torpedo launch tubes. These missiles flew for over two hours before accurately striking an island target.
Both the South Korean and U.S. militaries are now thoroughly analyzing these launches. They are also considering the possibility of exaggerated flight times. North Korea’s aim is to conduct nuclear strikes from underwater, thus bolstering its deterrent capability.
However, building a fleet of missile-firing submarines would require significant time, resources, and technological advancements. Nevertheless, Kim expressed satisfaction with the test and issued important tasks for further nuclear weaponization of the navy and expanding its sphere of operation.
In addition to submarine-launched cruise missiles, North Korea is also working on developing a nuclear-propelled submarine and other advanced naval vessels. A nuclear-propelled submarine would give North Korea the capability to quietly travel long distances and approach enemy shores to deliver strikes. However, experts suggest that such vessels are likely unfeasible for North Korea without external assistance in the near-term.
Currently, North Korea holds a large fleet of aging diesel-powered submarines that are capable of launching torpedoes and mines. Recent tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been escalating as Kim accelerates weapons development and issues threats of nuclear conflict with the United States and its allies.
In response to these developments, the United States, South Korea, and Japan are expanding military exercises and sharpening their deterrence strategies. They aim to counteract North Korea’s efforts to expand its arsenal of weapons designed to overwhelm missile defenses in South Korea, Japan, and remote U.S. targets in the Pacific.
These recent cruise missile launches follow the test-firing of North Korea’s first solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile on January 14. Kim’s ultimate goal is to increase the size of his arsenal to a level that can overpower defense systems and threaten not only regional stability but also remote targets in the Pacific.