New Mystery Submarine May Have Been Found in North Korea
A 50 ft long object on the quayside at a secretive North Korean Navy base appears to be a small submarine. Or even an extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicle (XLUUV). The discovery by Western observers comes at a time when North Korea has shut off communication with the South and threatened to mobilize the country’s military against South Korea. In dramatic fashion, today it reportedly blew up a joint liaison office with the South.
The mystery object in the North Korean base at Sinpo is much smaller than the Gorae Class ballistic … [+]
H I Sutton (Satellite imagery from Planet)
The unidentified object was found in high resolution satellite imagery and was first reported by North Korean analysis website 38 North. There are several possibilities, from the mundane to the explosive. One suggestion is that it is a new class of submersible.
The location, at Sinpo on North Korea’s East coast, is a secret Naval base where new submarines are built and tested. The object is just yards away from where the country’s first ballistic missile submarine, the Gorae Class, is normally tied up. It is also where the follow-on ‘Romeo-Mod’ missile boat is being built. That was shown off in state media in July 23 2019 but does not appear to be in the water yet. Unlike the Gorae, which is seen only as a test platform with limited operational capability at best, the larger Romeo-Mod will likely be the backbone of the Hermit Kingdom’s at-sea nuclear deterrent.
The new submarine, if that’s what the object is, is much smaller. At around 50-55 ft it is what would typically be known as a midget-submarine. North Korea builds a large number of midget subs, but actually most are much larger than this.
One possibility is that it is something roughly equivalent to the U.S. Navy SEAL’s dry combat submersible. North Korea has used its midget submarines to infiltrate agents and potentially commandos into South Korea before. Several have been caught in the act. But the known designs are already dated so a new model wouldn’t be surprising. Even though the great emphasis of North Korean submarine building appears to be ballistic missile boats.
Another more tantalizing possibility is that it is an extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicle (XLUUV). this would be a surprise move since the North’s capabilities in this field are generally doubted. North Korean submarines are extremely crude and low-tech compared to modern navies. But try to compensate by numbers, robustness and aggressive captaining.
However Iran, a country with close military technology ties with North Korea, has recently unveiled their own XLUUV. That vehicle appears crude, but is potentially impactful. It will be years before it is an operational system, but these underwater drones are a natural path for countries relying on asymmetric warfare. They could potentially be used more aggressively than the current crewed vessels. While they would lack the sophistication to complete complex missions, they could lay mines. Or attack surface vessels in a specified area where identification friend-or-foe (IFF) was not an issue.
Of course the object may be something much more mundane. It does not look like a truck, and it is too large to be a missile, but until we have more images we are kept guessing.