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February 27, 2024

North Korea Claims Successful Test of Underwater Nuclear Drone System

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Jan 20, 2024

North Korea announced on Friday that it has successfully tested a new underwater nuclear drone system, intended as a deterrent against joint naval exercises by the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The test underscores rising tensions in the region as North Korea rapidly expands its nuclear arsenal and threats to use it.

North Korea Announces Test of “Strategic” Nuclear Drone

North Korean state media reported that the country’s military conducted a test on Thursday of what it described as a “strategic” underwater nuclear drone system capable of conducting “underwater surprise attack operation[s]” (BBC, ABC News).

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) stated that the test involved a drone known as the Haeil-5 23, which is designed to be launched from a submarine. KCNA described the drone as having “strategic significance” due to its ability to conduct nuclear strikes against enemy naval ports and vessels.

Analysts say the drone appears capable of carrying a compact nuclear warhead and evading coastal defenses to strike targets up to 900 miles away (The War Zone). If operational, North Korea would be able to threaten US bases in Guam and Hawaii, as well as Japan and South Korea.

Test Comes After Renewed Joint Naval Drills

North Korea explicitly stated that the underwater drone test was in response to recent joint naval exercises between the US, South Korea, and Japan near the Korean peninsula.

The annual exercises, which include live-fire drills, began on Monday in waters off Okinawa. North Korea decried the drills in state media as “reckless military frenzy” and an “undisguised challenge” to its right to self-defense (Yonhap).

By showcasing an ability to evade coastal defenses and strike US and allied bases from relatively close range, analysts say North Korea is demonstrating that the joint drills themselves could be vulnerable to nuclear retaliation (The National Interest).

“The reality clearly shows that the military counteraction of the DPRK is just a counteraction to cope with the dangerous military moves of the US and its vassal forces against the sovereignty and security of the country,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement (Russia Today).

Technical Details and Capabilities Remain Unclear

While North Korea claimed success in testing its underwater nuclear drone system, outside experts say many details remain unclear, including whether North Korea has actually mastered the technology needed for such a drone.

“It’s not yet proven that North Korea has mastered the technology needed to launch a drone underwater which can travel long distances and accurately hit targets,” said Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington (Bloomberg).

North Korea released photographs of leader Kim Jong Un inspecting the weapon system, but no images showing Thursday’s claimed underwater launch test have been made public (Eurasia Times).

The Haeil 5-23 drone was first unveiled during a defense exhibition in Pyongyang last year. It appears to be launched from a submarine and is likely powered by a small nuclear reactor, enabling longer-range strike capabilities than non-nuclear armed drones (Newsweek).

Specifications Details
Name Haeil (Mars) 5-23
Class Strategic underwater nuclear drone
Propulsion Compact nuclear reactor
Speed Unknown
Range Up to 900 miles
Warhead Suspected compact nuclear warhead
Launch Platform Modified Gorae (Whale) class submarine

Table summarizing reported details about the North Korean Haeil 5-23 underwater nuclear drone system

Experts say the Gorae submarine believed to have been used in Thursday’s test lacks the range and endurance for long-distance strike missions. Further testing would be needed before North Korea can credibly claim to have an operational underwater nuclear deterrent (The War Zone).

A Sign of Further Provocations to Come?

Thursday’s announcement underscores Kim Jong Un’s vow earlier this year to mass produce tactical nuclear weapons and rapidly expand North Korea’s nuclear arsenal in response to what Pyongyang views as hostile policies from Washington and Seoul.

Kim has recently called for an “exponential increase” in North Korea’s nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield nukes to attack South Korea, and development of more advanced ICBMs that could strike the continental United States (New York Times).

The claimed Haeil 5-23 drone test comes after a record-breaking year for North Korean missile tests, including ICBMs designed to evade US missile defenses. Thursday’s test has experts warning that 2024 could see even further provocations.

“North Korea is signaling that it will continue to improve its arsenal in response to what it sees as threats by the United States and its allies in the region,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul (Voice of America).

International Condemnation, Calls for Dialogue

The United States, South Korea, Japan, and other nations quickly condemned North Korea’s underwater drone test. The US called on North Korea to engage in “sustained and substantive dialogue” after years of diplomatic stalemate.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called the test a “grave provocation” that violates UN Security Council resolutions banning North Korea from testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.

Japan announced that it will tighten sanctions enforcement on North Korea in coordination with the US and South Korea.

China and Russia, traditional allies of North Korea, urged calm and blamed the US and South Korea for provoking North Korea with their joint naval drills.

With North Korea rapidly expanding its nuclear forces and demonstrating new capabilities like underwater nuclear drones, experts say the risk of miscalculation leading to conflict is rising. But practical options for stopping North Korea’s growing nuclear threat remain limited, making renewed diplomacy ultimately necessary.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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