North Korea unveiled its first nuclear attack submarine in the eastern port city of Sinpo on Wednesday in a grand ceremony that gestured to the international community that the hermit country can compete with its larger foes — but South Korea seems to suggest the North is lying once again.
A blistering statement from South Korea’s military insisted the new submarine, a modified pre-existing sub that is allegedly capable of carrying nuclear weapons and traveling further than the rest of the North Korean underwater offensive, is merely "deception or exaggeration."
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea would have needed to make fundamental changes to the original vessel to accommodate new missile launch systems. Also, the appearance of the new submarine suggested that it could "not be operated normally," they added.
"There are signs of deception or exaggeration," the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, without providing further details.
A commissioning ceremony for the new submarine was held Wednesday in Sinpo, where North Korea runs a major shipyard developing submarines. It was attended by dictator Kim Jong Un.
In speeches at the vessel’s launching ceremony and an on-board inspection Thursday, Kim expressed satisfaction that the country has acquired its own nuclear attack submarine, according to North Korean state media outlet the Korean Central News Agency.
Kim also insisted the submarine, named "Hero Kim Kun Ok," would be daunting to his enemies as the country intends to roll out additional nuclear-propelled submarines in the future.
"The nuclear attack submarine, for decades a symbol of aggression against our republic, has now become a symbol of our revolutionary power to strike fear into the hearts of our despicable enemies," KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
Kim said the country is pursuing a fleet of nuclear-propelled submarines and will remodel its existing submarines and surface vessels to handle nuclear weaponry. He described building a nuclear-capable military as an "urgent task."
"This submarine, though heavily modified, is based on 1950s Soviet-origin technology and will have inherent limitations. Nevertheless, in terms of complicating the targeting challenges that the U.S. and its allies will face, the submarine will serve North Korea’s purposes," said Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Kim has been specifically emphasizing the need to strengthen the country’s navy in recent weeks.
For North Korea to build a fleet of at least several submarines that could travel quietly and execute attacks reliably would take considerable time, resources and technological improvements, analysts say. Such resources could come from Russia.
Senior leaders from the two countries met over the summer, and a potential meeting between Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the works.
There is speculation Kim will visit Putin to discuss North Korean arms sales to refill Russian reserves drained by its war in Ukraine.
North Korea could seek the advanced weapons technologies to provide Russia with artillery shells and other ammunition. The deal could include tech related to nuclear submarines, submarine-launched ballistic missile systems, intercontinental ballistic missiles and military spy satellites, analysts say, although Russia is typically reserved in giving out sensitive technology.
North Korea, as well as Russia, remain heavily sanctioned and both are struggling economically.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.