North Korea Looks Beyond Missiles, Toward Greater Sea Power


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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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North Korea is replacing its obsolete Cold War naval vessels with newer ships as tensions with the U.S. and South Korea skyrocket.

A modern corvette with stealth technology was spotted at Nanjin Port in Rason, North Korea, NK News revealed. High-resolution satellite images from 2016 show a heavily-armed, 77-meter-long ship equipped with two Kumsong-3 anti-ship cruise missile launchers, short-range surface-to-air missile systems, torpedo launchers, and rotary cannons. The ship could potentially be outfitted with a high-caliber naval cannon. The images also show a support ship capable of carrying helicopters.

“These ships are the culmination of over two decades of experimentation with new naval warfare concepts, and a clear indication of the direction that North Korean shipbuilding is headed in,” NK News analysts revealed. The ships could reportedly bring “new capabilities to the table that represent a tangible threat to opposing navies in the region,” the analysts further stated.

The new corvette represents an unprecedented achievement for North Korea, signaling that Kim Jong-un is modernizing his fleet.

The North showcased a surface effect ship (SES) armed with North Korea’s Kh-35 Uran anti-ship ballistic missile last year. North Korea is reportedly making “aggressive efforts” to upgrade its primary naval base, Monchon Naval Base, 38 North, a blog run by think tank U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, revealed in September.

The following month, 38 North presented evidence that North Korea is constructing a new, bigger-class of ballistic missile submarines at Sinpo South Shipyard, possibly to carry the North’s Pukkuksong-1 (KN-11) submarine-launched missile or a larger projectile weapon.

North Korea’s naval modernization faces several obstacles though.

One, the new corvette may not actually be equipped with modern anti-ship cruise missiles, just the launchers. If it is loaded with cruise missiles, the North’s new ship could pose a threat to some of the its southern neighbor’s ships. Two, North Korea’s navy does not possess the equipment or operate with enough organization to use its new technology to its full potential. North Korea lacks the ability to launch a coordinated strike with other vessels.

The significance of the North’s naval achievements extends beyond the technology itself.

“Despite continuing and new sanctions and presumptions of economic weakness by the outside world, North Korea has continued to make demonstrable progress in recent years at developing new and diverse weapons systems and platforms, showing capabilities – or steps toward them – previously thought to be many years away for North Korea, if not beyond its reach,” John Grisafi, NK News’ Director of Intelligence, revealed.

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