Seoul, South Korea — North Korea on Friday claimed it tested an underwater nuclear-capable drone designed to generate a giant “radioactive tsunami” that would destroy naval strike groups and ports. Analysts were skeptical that the device poses a major new threat, but the test underscores the North’s commitment to addressing nuclear threats.
The test this week came as the United States reportedly planned to deploy carrier strike groups and other sophisticated assets in the waters off the Korean peninsula. Military tensions are at an all-time high as the pace of both North Korean weapons tests and joint US-South Korean military exercises has accelerated in a cycle of tit-for-tat reactions over the past year.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the new weapon, which can be deployed from shore or towed by surface ships, is built to “covertly infiltrate operational waters and create a super-sized radioactive tsunami through an underwater explosion.” to destroy enemy naval vessels. strike groups and ports.
The report came hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol vowed to make North Korea pay for its “reckless provocations” when he attended a memorial service honoring 55 South Korean troops killed in major clashes in recent years. the north near their western maritime border.
The testing of the alleged “nuclear underwater strike drone” was part of a three-day exercise simulating nuclear strikes against unspecified South Korean targets, which also included cruise missile launches on Wednesday.
KCNA said the north’s latest tests were intended to warn the United States and South Korea of an impending “nuclear crisis” as they continue their “deliberate, sustained and provocative war exercises.” It said the tests were overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who vowed to “plunge into despair” his rivals.
The US and South Korea completed an 11-day exercise on Thursday that included their largest field training in years, and are preparing another round of joint naval exercises that will reportedly involve a US aircraft carrier.
Hours after the North Korean report, the South Korean Air Force released details of a five-day joint air exercise with the United States that began Monday and ended Friday over water off South Korea’s western coast. air and air-to-ground weapons.
The air force said the exercise, which involved several South Korean fighter jets and at least one U.S. A-10 strike aircraft, was designed to verify precision strike capabilities and test the credibility of Seoul’s “three-axis” strategy against North Korean reaffirm nuclear threats. pre-emptively attacking attack sources, intercepting incoming missiles, and neutralizing the North’s leaders and key military facilities.
The North Korean drone is called “Haeil,” a Korean word meaning tidal waves or tsunamis. The northern newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photos of Kim smiling next to a large, torpedo-shaped object in an unspecified indoor facility, but did not identify it.
Other photos published with the same article showed sea surface marks supposedly caused by the drone’s underwater trajectory and a column of water exploding into the air, possibly caused by what state media described as an underwater detonation of a fake nuclear weapon launched by the drone is carried .
KCNA said the drone deployed off the northeastern coast on Tuesday, traveling underwater for nearly 60 hours and detonating a test warhead at a target positioned in front of an enemy harbor. It said the test verified the operational reliability of the drone, which the North says has been developed since 2012 and tested more than 50 times in the past two years, though the weapon was never mentioned in state media until Friday.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul University of North Korean Studies, said it is impossible to verify North Korea’s claims about the drone’s capabilities or that it has tested the system dozens of times. But, he said, the North intends to communicate that the weapon has sufficient range to reach all South Korean ports.
Ankit Panda, a senior analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, questioned North Korea’s wisdom in devoting resources to the drone system as a means of delivery versus its ballistic missiles when it has limited amounts of nuclear material suitable for weapons.
“This unmanned underwater vehicle will be vulnerable to anti-submarine warfare if deployed outside North Korea’s coastal waters. It will also be susceptible to pre-emptive attacks in port,” said Panda.
“Indeed, the US and South Korea would have incentives in a crisis to prevent such systems before they can be deployed.”
North Korea is believed to have dozens of nuclear warheads and may be able to place them on older weapon systems, such as Scuds or Rodong missiles. However, there are differing assessments of how far it has progressed in designing those warheads to fit the new weapons it has been rapidly developing, which may require further technology upgrades and nuclear testing.
South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup told lawmakers on Thursday that the North likely has not yet mastered the technology to put nuclear weapons on its most advanced weapons, but acknowledged that the country was making “significant progress.”
On Wednesday, North Korea also tested cruise missiles in launches detected and publicized by South Korea’s military. It also hosted a simulation of a nuclear strike with a short-range missile on Sunday and last week conducted a flight test with an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially reach the United States mainland.
KCNA said Wednesday’s tests involved four cruise missiles and two different types. The missiles flew over the sea in patterns for more than two hours while demonstrating their ability to hit targets 1,500 kilometers (932 mi) and 1,800 kilometers (1,118 mi) away. It said the missiles’ fake warheads were detonated 600 meters (1,968 feet) above their targets, supposedly confirming the reliability of their nuclear explosion-control devices and warhead detonators.
KCNA said Kim Jong Un was satisfied with the three-day exercises and ordered unspecified additional tasks to counter his rivals’ “reckless military provocations,” indicating that North Korea will further ramp up its military demonstrations.
He “expressed his will to plunge the US imperialists and the (South) Korean puppet regime into desperation” with strong demonstrations of his military nuclear program to make his rivals understand that “they will lose more than they get” with the expansion of their joint exercises.
Kim issued similar language on Sunday following a test firing of a short-range ballistic missile from what may have been a silo dug into the ground. The North’s media said a mock warhead on the missile was detonated 800 meters (2,624 feet) above water, an altitude that would maximize damage.
The North has fired more than 20 ballistic and cruise missiles in 10 launch events this year as it seeks to diversify its delivery systems and demonstrate its capability to launch nuclear strikes against both South Korea and the US mainland.
North Korea has already had a record year in terms of testing activity, with more than 70 missiles fired by 2022, as Kim accelerated a campaign to negotiate much-needed sanctions relief from a position of strength and force the United States to idea of the North as a nuclear power.
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