North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently paid an on-site visit to a newly-built military submarine, the DPRK’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Tuesday.
Speaking during a visit to an undisclosed factory, the DPRK leader was reported to have “expressed great satisfaction” about the design and construction of the new vessel.
The new submarine was reportedly constructed with Kim’s “meticulous guidance and special attention,” KCNA reported.
“Making a round of the submarine, the Supreme Leader learned in detail about its operational and tactical data and combat weapon systems,” it added.
Describing the new submarine as an “important component in national defence of our country,” the leader was reported to have stressed the need for the DPRK to “reliably increase the national defence capability by directing big efforts to the development of the naval weapons and equipment such as submarine.”
“Explaining the Party’s strategic plan for the use of submarine and underwater operation, he elaborated on the immediate duty and strategic tasks facing the field of national defence science and submarine industry to carry out the plan,” he continued.
The timing of Kim’s visit to the factory is noteworthy, coming amid growing doubts that working-level DPRK-U.S. negotiations — agreed to by the two countries’ leaders at an impromptu summit last month — will go ahead.
U.S. President Trump told reporters on Monday that the two countries recently had a “very positive correspondence,” while admitting that no timeframe for the working-level negotiations had been set.
The DPRK leader was accompanied during the visit by a group of top officials, including many with ties to the country’s military-industrial complex and known to be linked to its missile and weapons programs.
Those included deputy directors at the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Machine Building Industry Department Hong Yong Chil and Kim Jong Sik, as well as Jang Chang Ha, president of the country’s Academy of National Defense Science.
“The unusual appearance of multiple party Munitions Department and defense industry officials and the report’s emphasis on developing the defense science sector seem to build on signs of the North’s increased display of interest in an arms buildup over the past few months,” Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
“It also seems consistent with an extremely rare series of highly authoritative articles carried by North Korean media since late May that seemed to point to Pyongyang’s hardening stance on the U.S.”
One expert said the new submarine was potentially a successor to the Sinpo-C class submarine, first spotted in 2016.
“I think we have just seen the first images of the submarine known to the U.S. intelligence community as the Sinpo-C, or the larger successor to the Sinpo/Gorae-class ballistic missile submarine,” Ankit Panda, an adjunct fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said.
“This vessel looks much larger than the Gorae,” he added. “From the limited imagery, it’s possible it has a missile bay capable of accommodating as many as four ballistic missiles.”
“The images also seem to confirm that contrary to some speculation, North Korea’s undersea deterrent is very much a real program and not particularly about the “prestige” of sea-based nuclear weapons.”
Dave Schmerler, a Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, agreed, telling NK News the new vessel was likely the end-product of recent renewed activity at the North’s Sinpo South Shipyard and would likely serve to correct current shortcomings in the DPRK’s submarine fleet.
“The current North Korean [ballistic missile submarine] is a test platform that can only launch one SLBM which would make it a horribly inefficient weapon system,” he said. “Making a new submarine system that could carry more would be the natural direction to move into if that were the case.”
“North Korea’s submarine fleet is also aging so this could be a possible domestic replacement for those older ships.”
Featured image: KCNA