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Kim Jong-un test-fires North Korean nuclear-capable cruise missiles from submarine, says state media

North Korea fires upgraded ‘Pulhwasl-3-31’ missiles for second time in a week

Shweta Sharma
Monday 29 January 2024 20:47 GMT
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North Korea unveils tactical nuclear submarine, effectiveness in question

North Korea has said its leader, Kim Jong-un, supervised the launch of new cruise missiles fired from submarines on Sunday, part of a flurry of recent weapons tests.

State media reports said Mr Kim also reviewed the site of an under-construction “nuclear submarine”, while reiterating his regime’s goal of building a nuclear-armed navy to counter perceived threats.

Sunday’s was the latest claimed launch of North Korea’s Pulhwasal-3-31 cruise missile, which it also fired off its western coast from a land-based launch site last week.

Mr Kim has stepped up missile launches in recent weeks while declaring South Korea his “principal enemy”, as tensions on the Korean peninsula have reached levels not seen in years.

The leader of the hermit kingdom called Sunday’s test a success “of strategic significance”, state news agency KCNA said. It claimed that the missiles “flew in the sky above the East Sea” for more than two hours before accurately striking an island target, without specifying either the vessel used for the launches or the target itself.

Pictures published by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed two missiles leaving thick grey clouds of smoke as they broke the water’s surface and soared into the air at an angle of around 45 degrees, which possibly suggests they were fired from torpedo launch tubes.

The test firing of the submarine-launched strategic cruise missile Pulhwasal-3-31, at an undisclosed location in North Korea (Getty)

The state-run Korean Central News Agency also said the North Korean leader was briefed on efforts to develop a nuclear-propelled submarine and other new types of warship.

The expansion of nuclear-capable assets for the navy has been the key goal for Mr Kim recently. He made similar comments in September, while attending the launch ceremony of a new submarine capable of firing tactical nuclear weapons from underwater at a naval base in Sinpo.

Nuclear-propelled submarines can silently cover long distances and reach enemy shores for strategic strikes, aligning with Mr Kim’s goal of building a nuclear arsenal capable of threatening the US mainland. However, experts believe North Korea is unlikely to develop such submarines without external assistance in the near future.

Kim Jong Un reacts to the launch of a Pulhwasal-3-31 missile (Getty)

North Korea is believed to have approximately 70 to 90 diesel-powered submarines, constituting one of the world’s largest submarine fleets. However, these vessels are mostly ageing and can only launch torpedoes and mines.

Sunday’s launch came four days after North Korea test fired the Pulhwasl-3-31, describing the test as part of regular efforts to develop its military. North Korea also described the missile as “strategic”, suggesting its likely intent to arm it with nuclear weapons. On 14 January, North Korea said it had launched its first solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile.

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