North Korea preparing to launch ballistic missile submarine, says South Korean news agency

A handout picture showing what appears to be submarine-launched ballistic missiles during a military parade in Pyongyang on Jan 14, 2021.
A handout picture showing what appears to be submarine-launched ballistic missiles during a military parade in Pyongyang on Jan 14, 2021.PHOTO: AFP/KCNA

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - North Korea has built a new submarine believed to be capable of carrying at least three ballistic missiles and is gauging the right time to unveil it, a South Korean news outlet said on Sunday (April 11), citing anonymous Seoul officials familiar with the matter.

"South Korea and the US believe North Koreans have finished building one that they revealed in 2019," Yonhap News Agency quoted the officials as saying.

The North's state media released a photograph at the time, in which leader Kim Jong Un was shown inspecting the submarine.

"North Korea could test-fire a ballistic missile on that submarine after the roll-out ceremony," the officials said.

The submarine is believed to be a modified Soviet-era Romeo-class model built at the Sinpo South Shipyard along the east coast. The port city is home to the North's fleet of submarines.

North Korea is also building a larger submarine that could carry advanced ballistic missiles, the report said, referring to the Pukguksong-4 and Pukguksong-5 missiles it revealed in 2020 and 2021 during a military parade and a key party meeting, respectively.

The Pukguksong-3 was tested in October 2019.

Last Thursday, the website 38 North said that based on satellite images it reviewed, North Korea could be preparing to either roll out a new ballistic missile submarine or conduct a submarine-launched ballistic missile test.

It could also be just general maintenance, according to the website that monitors the isolated country.

North Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile in 2015 when Mr Kim oversaw the launch.

It last conducted a submarine-launched ballistic missile test with the Pukguksong-3 in 2019, when it pushed ahead with the launch hours after it announced that it would resume nuclear talks with the United States.

Mr Kim is seen as trying to step up pressure on the US to unveil more favourable measures towards Pyongyang as Washington is in the final stages of fine-tuning details of a new North Korea policy.

The US, which has said it is looking at both sanctions and dialogue to engage the isolated regime, has slammed North Korea's rights abuses in a shift to a hard-line approach to the North.

Pyongyang has responded with missile tests, having brushed off Washington's behind-the-scenes outreach since February.