North Korea’s state media has released images of its leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a new submarine under construction.
According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the “newly built” submarine would be deployed to the Korean East Sea (Sea of Japan) soon.
The report added that Kim Jong Un “expressed great satisfaction over the fact that the submarine was designed and built to be capable of fully implementing the military strategic intention of the Party under various circumstances”.
According to H I Sutton, a naval analyst and submarine expert, the submarine appeared to be a modified version of the Chinese Type 033 Romeo-class submarine, capable of carrying submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in its silo-equipped conning tower. Type 033 is the Chinese built variant of the Soviet Romeo-class diesel-electric submarine.
Read the H I Sutton’s analysis here.
— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) July 23, 2019
North Korea’s Korean People’s Navy (KPN) currently operates 20 Romeo class submarines. Seven were directly imported from China between 1973 and 1975, and the remainder locally assembled with Chinese supplied parts between 1976 and 1995. One apparently sank in an accident in 1985. Four Chinese imported units are based on the western coast.
In total, North Korea operates around 70 submarines making it the second or third largest fleet of submarines in the world, after only the United States and possibly China. Most of them are midget submarines – Yono and Sang-O-classes.
Only one North Korean submarine is thought to be capable of being armed with ballistic missile – the Sinpo/Gorae class submarine. It is the largest submarine designed and built for the Korean People’s Navy and, only one submarine of the class has been observed in service.
The submarine reportedly carries the missile in its conning tower due to its small hull dimensions. In August 2016, during the annual joint US-South Korea military exercise, a submarine presumed to be this one launched what is believed to be a KN-11 (Pukkŭksŏng-1 or Bukgeukseong-1) ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.
Read H I Sutton’s in-depth analysis on Sinpo/Gorae class here.