North Korea says it has launched a nuclear attack submarine after years of development – but South Korea’s military has claimed it does not appear to operate normally.
Kim Jong Un attended a ceremony to christen the vessel on Wednesday, and described it as a critical milestone in his efforts to build a navy that can counter the US and South Korea.
According to the isolated state’s KCNA news agency, the submarine is designed to launch nuclear weapons from underwater – but it is unclear how many missiles it can carry and fire.
In theory, this would boost North Korea’s deterrent because it would be able to retaliate even after absorbing a nuclear attack on land.
Pyongyang now plans to extend this capability to its existing fleet of submarines, and build further nuclear-powered vessels in future.
“Achieving a rapid development of our naval forces… is a priority that cannot be delayed given… the enemies’ recent aggressive moves and military acts,” Kim said in a speech.
The new submarine has been named Hero Kim Kun Ok in honour of a historical North Korean figure, and analysts had first spotted signs it was being built back in 2016.
Two months ago, the US docked a nuclear-capable missile submarine in South Korean waters for the first time since the 1980s.
North Korea has test-fired a number of submarine launched ballistic missiles – as well as cruise missiles that can be fired from submarines.
But according to analysts, it would take considerable time and resources for the heavily sanctioned nation to build a fleet that could travel quietly in seas and reliably execute attacks.
Reports have recently suggested that Kim is preparing to visit Russia for a meeting with Vladimir Putin.
North Korea could end up providing artillery shells and ammunition in exchange for economic aid and advanced weapons technologies.
South Korea has condemned the launch, with officials accusing Kim of hurting the lives and human rights of his citizens.