Close analysis of Kim Jong Un's new nuclear missile submarine reveals it's bound for a suicide mission

north korea submarineKCNA / Business Insider

  • North Korea showed Kim touring a factory building a submarine, which HI Sutton, a submarine analyst, said probably took place on the country's east coast.
  • Kim hasn't been pictured inspecting weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads since the thaw in tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
  • A naval expert said Kim's "new" submarine looks much like an old Russian submarine class, introduced in the 1950s, and has rough welded edges that will hamper it from evading detection by modern submarines used by US and Japan.
  • North Korea's submarine can essentially perform one task: Launch nuclear missiles at close targets like South Korea or Japan. This is a suicide mission for Pyongyang.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

North Korea on Monday recalled the days of "fire and fury" by releasing images of Leader Kim Jong Un touring a suspected nuclear-capable submarine, and a close reading of the images reveal once again that a US fight with North Korea could mean death for millions in the region, and suicide for Pyongyang.

Kim hasn't been pictured inspecting weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads since the thaw in tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, but on Monday it appears to have lost patience with now-stalled peace talks.

North Korea showed Kim touring a factory building a submarine, which HI Sutton, a submarine analyst, said probably took place on the country's east coast.

North Korea has long sought a submarine that can fire ballistic missiles, but struggled to create one while under international sanctions. Ballistic missile submarines give countries like the US and Russia an incomparable deterrent.

Even if somehow an adversary state found every single nuclear weapon a country possesses, and destroyed them before a single shot could be fired in return, a submarine can lurk under the surface to deal a final retaliation blow.

North Korea has tested several missiles designed to fire from submarines, but never fielded a true undersea deterrent.

The pictures on Monday suggest that Kim is getting close to changing that, although the submarine's crude construction will likely compel it to lurk close to North Korea's shores and out of range of more powerful US subs.

Take a look at Kim's tour of the submarine factory in the pictures below.

kim jong un submarine north korea

kim jong un north korea submarine

submarine kim jong un north koreaKCNA

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessments and a former submariner, told Business Insider that Kim's "new" submarine looks much like a Russian Romeo-class submarine, which was first built in the 1950s.

"It seems like they've adapted a Type 033, the only submarine they had access to, and adapted it to carry ballistic missiles in a conning tower sail launch tube," he said.

Clark said that the US and other advanced countries build submarines with giant, round plates of steal that they weld together, North Korea had to weld together small, flat sheets of steel. This, according to Clark, gives the submarine its rough appearance and many seams along the edges.

In the world of submarines, this rough surface kills the vessel's ability to hide underwater.

Compare North Korea's submarine with this picture of a France's new Barracuda submarine.

France navy Barracuda class submarineThe French Navy sub called &quotSuffren," first of the nuclear-powered Barracuda-class attack submarines, leaves the Naval Group workshop in Cherbourg, July 5, 2019.REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

A suicide mission

north korea missile testsFile photo of a North Korean missile test from KCNA.KCNA

Instead of patrolling the world's oceans like US and Russian nuclear submarines do, Clark said this submarine probably wouldn't leave North Korea's coast. Most likely, it would sit a few miles off the coast within North Korea's territorial waters and sit armed with a few nuclear missiles.

US and Japanese ships have excellent sonars that can easily find and help destroy submarines like North Korea's shoddy diesel-electric boat, but international law would keep them at least 10 or so miles at bay - unless a war was on.

"If you deploy it in your home waters off your coast, you can maybe avoid someone getting close enough to attack it," Clark said. "That gives you like a 10-mile buffer. [The US or Japan would be] able to hear it right at that buffer."

This means North Korea's submarine can essentially perform one task: Launching nuclear missiles at close by targets like South Korea or Japan. This is a suicide mission for Pyongyang.

Unstoppable, unsurvivable

north korea missile launchA South Korean man watches a TV news program showing an image published in North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper of North Korea's ballistic missile believed to have been launched from underwater, at Seoul Railway station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 9, 2015.Ahn Young-oon/AP

A submarine launch by North Korea would mean an almost unstoppable shot. All of a sudden, a missile would emerge from the depths and then jet upwards to the edge of space. Within a few minutes, that missile could come crashing down on one of the world's more densely populated cities. It would leave a trail to a pinpoint in the ocean where the submarine had lurked.

But while the shot is unstoppable, the submarine is unsurvivable. US and Japanese ships, after a nuclear attack, would breach North Korea's waters and hunt and kill the ship. Targets on land in North Korea would likely follow next as the US brought it vastly superior nuclear forces to bear.

This makes it extremely unlikely North Korea would ever use this submarine for nuclear strikes. Even with that knowledge, Clark said he wouldn't want to submerge in North Korea's new submarine. Clark compared the old technology to taking a '67 Chevy and trying to drive it cross country without an oil change or engine check-up.

One way or another, North Korea's new submarine looks like a death trap.

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