A US-based think group said on Thursday, using commercial satellite images, that North Korea may be ready to deploy a new submarine thought to be equipped with ballistic missile launchers. ‘Six barges and vessels were seen collected around the construction hall dock in photos taken on September 18 of the Sinpo South Shipyard on the country’s east coast’, according to North Korea watchdog 38 North.
The study stated that although barges and a dry dock have occasionally been seen near the submarine launch quay at the main construction hall, the presence of six boats and barges in this region has never been seen previously.
In 2019, state media depicted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a previously unreported submarine that was built under ‘his special attention’ and that would be operational in the waters off the east coast. Analysts first noticed signs that at least one new submarine was being built in 2016, and in 2016 analysts discovered signs that at least one new submarine was being built.
The armament systems of the submarine, as well as the location and timing of the inspection, were unknown at the time. Analysts said that the new ship’s apparent size suggested that missiles were its intended use. Although North Korea has a sizable submarine fleet, there is only one ballistic missile-capable experimental submarine that is currently known to exist.
Analysts disagree on whether the alleged new missile submarine is a completely unique design or if it is based on a modified Romeo Class submarine that North Korea first purchased from China in the 1970s before starting to manufacture them domestically.
In May, North Korea conducted a test shot of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from a location close to Sinpo, where it also has submarines and testing tools. In the midst of delayed denuclearization negotiations, observers claim North Korea has started preparations to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.