North Korea revealed its latest indigenous submarine on 23rd July 2019. Footage was shown of Kim Jong Un inspecting the submarine, probably in Sinpo on the east coast. North Korean state media (KCNA) reported that it was “newly built” and will operate in the East Sea of Korea (aka Sea of Japan). This is consistent with North Korea’s existing Gorae Class ballistic missile submarine.
Footage shown on KCNA only appears to show the lower hull of the submarine, near the stern and near the bow. This is enough to say with confidence that this is a modified ROMEO Class submarine. North Korea imported 7 boats from China in 1973 and then construction of the first 11 local versions took place with Chinese assistance at Sinpo shipyard on the East Coast from 1974 to 1979. Production resumed, probably without Chinese help, from 1985 to 1996. As many as 20 are reported in service although numbers are likely declining over time.
The footage clearly shows the twin-screws (propellers) with shrouds per the ROMEO, and also the bulbous sonar dome at the base of the bow. It also shows that a new deck casing has been fitted alongside and behind the sail confirming that this is a modified boat. A corner of the sail’s trailing edge is just visible in one of the first images released.
Subsequently another image surfaced showing some sail details:
However, the modifications are consistent with sail-mounted ballistic missile silos, similar to the Gorae Class submarine (and Soviet era HOTEL and GOLF Classes). From hints visible in the KCNA images it appears that the missile tubes are located in the aft battery compartment directly ahead of the engine room. This suggests that the submarine has not been lengthened instead sacrificing internal space to accommodate the missiles. In this configuration, two missile tubes seems most likely although three might be possible.
Analysis suggests that the missile tubes are placed in the aft battery compartment and that the sail has been heightened and lengthened to accommodate them. Three tubes are shown; this would be the maximum complement in this configuration.
It is yet unclear whether the submarine has been stretched to accommodate NK-11 “북극성-1” (Pukgeukseong-1) Submarine launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM). Profile (A) above shows the likely hull configuration if SLNBMs are carried.
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On paper North Korea has the second or third largest fleet of submarines in the world, after only the United States and possibly China. While the submarines themselves may be small or antiquated, the men who man them have a proven track record of loyalty, discipline, basic naval competence and aggressive leadership. These include a single Gorae class SSB:
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