Submarine (stock image)
Submarine (stock image) iStock

North Korea appears to be preparing to test a new ballistic missile submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles, significantly bolstering the regime’s ability to conduct long-distance attacks.

Satellite photographs taken Monday of the Sinpo South Shipyard in North Korea show the new submarine with nearby cranes and support craft, suggesting the submarine may be in preparation for a launch test.

Last month, North Korea claimed that Kim Jong Un had inspected a “newly built submarine” at the shipyard.

The new photographs appear to confirm the claim, say Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha of Beyond Parallel, a research project backed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

While North Korea has claimed that the submarine is nearly ready for deployment at sea, however, Bermudez and Cha remain skeptical, suggesting it could take over a year for the submarine to be fully operational, even after its construction has been completed.

If and when the submarine does become operational, it will mark a “significant advancement of the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear threat and complicate defense planning in the region, given the difficulties of tracking and/or pre-emptively targeting such capabilities,” Bermudez and Cha wrote.

“North Korea is making real progress in developing a second leg of the nuclear triad, bringing them closer to a survivable nuclear force.”