SEOUL, North Korea purchased decommissioned submarines dating back to the former Soviet Union as part of its submarine-launched ballistic missile development program.
Pyongyang’s fleet includes Golf-class diesel submarines, capable of vertically sending out a SLBM via a D-5 launch system. The equipment was acquired 20 years ago from Russia, South Korean television network SBS reported.
At the time of the sale, sources had said the D-5 launch system, or tubes, had been destroyed, but South Korea and U.S. military authorities confirmed the equipment was in sufficiently good condition to be reused, according to South Korea press.
Moon Geun-sik, a South Korean defense analyst, said the North Korea submarines have vertical missile launchers with “proven capabilities,” and it would be correct to think of Pyongyang’s SLBM project as “nearing completion.”
Opinions among analysts remain divided over whether North Korea’s fleet of submarines is capable of launching SLBMs.
Writing on 38 North, a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to North Korea issues, analyst John Schilling stated a third SLBM test in December 2015, that most likely failed, was probably conducted from an underwater barge than a submarine.
Schilling wrote that an initial operational capability of a North Korean ballistic-missile submarine is not expected before 2020.
In early January, South Korea media reported South Korea’s pre-emptive strike system is not ready to deal with SLBMs.