North Korea may be close to launching a submarine capable of firing missiles and is making efforts to conceal its preparations, new commercial satellite images obtained by CNN appear to show.
The images from the Middlebury Institute and Planet Labs appear to show North Korea making progress readying the vessel at the Sinpo South Naval Shipyard along the central coast of the country off the Sea of Japan.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited the base in July to inspect progress on the submarine, which may already be operational, according to analysts.
“North Korea has erected a structure in the secure boat basin to hide the new submarine,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute.
When Kim inspected the construction of the submarine in July, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim had been briefed about the vessel’s operational and tactical data and combat weapon systems, and said it would deployed to North Korean territorial waters “soon.”
The United States assessed that the photos of Kim’s visit released by KCNA in July likely showed a refurbished submarine that Washington had been aware of for more than a year, according to a senior US official with direct knowledge of the assessment, CNN adds.
The Kim regime has sought to build a viable nuclear-armed submarine to enhance its deterrence capabilities analysts say, as those vessels are harder to track and destroy as opposed to land-based missiles. North Korea successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile in 2016.