Why is North Korea growing its navy with submarines and nuclear drones?

According to a report by Reuters on September 8th, North Korea has revealed its efforts to enhance its naval capabilities by acquiring new nuclear armaments, such as an underwater drone, warships, and its initial operational missile submarine, during the previous year.

The maritime forces of North Korea have traditionally been smaller in contrast to the nation’s ground forces, and have been less noticeable because of its swiftly advancing ballistic missile program.

Analysts say that it may also assure support among naval commanders and boost national pride, as Kim Jong Un, the leader of the country with nuclear deterrence, has said that the navy will play a key role.

Ankit Panda from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the United States stated, “The Korean People’s Navy probably appreciates the recent emphasis on naval nuclear capabilities.” “Until fairly recently, it seemed that Kim had mostly disregarded naval nuclear programs.”

Here is the information we have about the navy of North Korea and its most recent developments.

According to the 2022 Defense White Paper of the South Korean military, the Naval Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPANF) possesses approximately 470 surface vessels, which comprise of guided missile ships, torpedo boats, small patrol vessels, and fire support boats.

It possesses approximately 70 submarines, which include Romeo-class ships with Soviet-era design, as well as small submarines.

The naval forces also possess approximately 40 auxiliary vessels and 250 amphibious vessels.

The navy of Pyongyang is divided into two fleets, which cover about 60 percent of the country’s west and east coasts, according to Paper White.

The North Korean Naval Force possesses the capacity to carry out any surprise attack at any given time because its deep-sea operations are primarily limited due to the fact that its force consists mainly of small, high-speed vessels, as stated by the paper.

What Are the Latest Weapons in the Navy’s Arsenal?

In March and April, North Korea conducted tests on what it claimed to be a nuclear-capable unmanned underwater assault weapon.

The newly named “Haeil” drone system is designed to carry out covert attacks in enemy waters, targeting major operational ports and naval vessels, causing an underwater explosion and destroying the intended targets, as mentioned by the media.

Analysts said that the operational concept of Russia’s Poseidon nuclear torpedoes was similar to a new category of retaliatory weapons meant to create destructive radioactive blasts in coastal areas.

However, a report from the Washington-based North 38 stated that the limited range and slow speed of the weapon substantially reduced its time-to-target, accuracy, and lethality compared to the existing nuclear-armed ballistic and cruise missiles of North Korea.

In August, Kim inspected a new Amnok-class corvette, a patrol ship that state media said was capable of firing nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

According to an analysis by the specialist website Naval News, North Korea’s nuclear cruise missile capability is considered a significant advancement, even though most of the weapons and sensors on board are significantly outdated compared to western or Asian designs. This capability has been described as a “game changer” by the website, which highlights its importance for potential adversaries.

On Friday, North Korea said it had launched its first operational “tactical nuclear attack submarine” and assigned it to the eastern fleet.

The vessel appears to be a modified Romeo-class submarine with 10 launch tubes, most likely armed with ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

South Korean officials mentioned that the new submersible vehicle appears to be partially functional, but they refrained from disclosing additional information.

Like the nuclear drone, its use in a war may be limited compared with North Korea’s more robust land-based missiles, analysts said.

Vann Van Diepen, a former weapons specialist from the U.S. Government collaborating with 38 North, expressed, “Their underwater vessels simply won’t possess the same level of durability as their forces stationed on land.” “Moreover, they will encounter significant challenges in deploying an adequate number of missiles at sea to have a substantial impact.”