Satellite images from the past few months indicate that North Korea may be developing a new class of submarines to carry its newer ballistic missiles, according to a U.S.-based think tank specializing in North Korean studies.
“Commercial satellite imagery strongly suggests that a naval construction program is underway at North Korea’s Sinpo South Shipyard, possibly to build a new submarine,” reported U.S.-Korea Institute at 38North blog.
The Sinpo South Shipyard is where North Korea builds the majority of its submarines. The shipyard is home to the North’s Maritime Research Institute of the Academy of National Defense Science, which is responsible for research and development related to naval vessels and submarines, as well as naval armaments. North Korean Gorae-class ballistic missile submarine was constructed there.
The construction work visible in the satellite images does not strictly point to the development of a new class of submarines, but it might.
“If the activity is indeed to build a new submarine, it would appear to be larger than North Korea’s Gorae-class experimental ballistic missile submarine,” explained the 38North report. After the North completed its Gorae-class submarine, it began rapidly upgrading the facilities at the Sinpo South Shipyard.
“The facilities provide North Korea with the capability to build submarines much larger than the Gorae-class or the Romeo-class,” the report added.
A satellite image from Sept. 24 shows a ring with a diameter of 10 meters that could be for the development of a bigger submarine. North Korea’s Gorae-class submarine has a beam of only seven meters. If the North is constructing a new class of submarines, it will most likely carry the recently tested newer ballistic missiles.
The North has been designing specialized submarines since the 1960s, and Pyongyang now has one of the largest submarine fleets in the world.
A 2010 investigation of North Korea’s submarine fleet following the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan revealed that the Korean People’s Navy had around 70 submarines, including 20 Romeo-class submarines, 40 Sango-class submarines, and 10 Yono-class midget submarines.
Pyongyang’s submarine fleet has come to include several new members since 2010.
North Korea has a single Gorae-class (Sinpo-class) submarine, which is capable of carrying a ballistic missile. This sub was involved in the Aug. 24 test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Following this test, which was deemed a great success, Kim Jong Un called for the mounting of nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.
After North Korea’s fifth nuclear test Sept. 9, Pyongyang claimed that it mastered the skills required to create nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
A new class of submarines would follow the North’s present naval militarization trajectory.
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