NORTH Korea has claimed it’s tested a new nuclear underwater attack drone designed to unleash a “radioactive tsunami,” as Kim Jong-un vows to “plunge rivals into despair”.
The North’s state news agency KCNA also confirmed it fired cruise missiles during the weapon test and firing drill that took place from Tuesday to Thursday.
During the drill, the North Korean drone cruised underwater for more than 59 hours and detonated in waters off its east coast on Thursday, according to KCNA.
The “secret weapon” was put in the water off South Hamgyon province on Tuesday, and on Thursday it detonated a test warhead, the agency said.
It did not elaborate on the drone’s nuclear capabilities.
Dubbed “Haeil”, or tsunami, the drone system is intended to make sneak attacks in enemy waters and destroy naval striker groups and major operational ports by making a super-scale radioactive wave through an underwater explosion, the KCNA said.
“This nuclear underwater attack drone can be deployed at any coast and port or towed by a surface ship for operation,” the news agency said, adding the test had been overseen by leader Kim Jong-un.
It is unclear whether North Korea has fully developed miniaturised nuclear warheads needed to fit on its smaller weapons.
North Korea has stepped up its weapons demonstrations this month in a tit-for-tat response to the United States’ expanding military exercises with ally South Korea aimed at countering the North’s growing nuclear threat.
Analysts say perfecting smaller warheads would most likely be a key goal if the North resumes nuclear testing.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said Pyongyang’s latest claim to have a nuclear-capable underwater drone “should be met with scepticism.”
“But it is clearly intended to show that the Kim regime has so many different means of nuclear attack that any preemptive or decapitation strike against it would fail disastrously,” he said.
In a separate firing drill, North Korea also confirmed it fired four cruise missiles on Wednesday to practice carrying out tactical nuclear attack missions.
The missiles were tipped with a “test warhead simulating a nuclear warhead,” and flew 1,500 to 1,800 kilometres, it added.
The South Korean military has said North Korea fired four cruise missiles off its east coast on Wednesday.
KCNA said on Wednesday the North fired strategic cruise missiles “tipped with a test warhead simulating a nuclear warhead.”
KCNA said two Hwasal-1-type strategic cruise missiles and two Hwasal-2-type strategic cruise missiles, launched in South Hamgyong province, accurately hitting the target set in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.
Kim is said to have supervised the three-day exercise, according to KCNA, that simulated nuclear counterattacks against enemy naval assets and ports that involved detonations of mock nuclear warheads.
KCNA added the drills were aimed at alerting the US and South Korea of a brewing “nuclear crisis” as they continue with their “intentional, persistent and provocative war drills” the North portrays as invasion rehearsals.
KCNA said Kim was satisfied with the three-day drills and further issued unspecified “militant tasks” to counter the “reckless military provocations” of his rivals, indicating that the North would further ramp up its military displays.
Kim “expressed his will to make the US imperialists and the (South) Korean puppet regime plunge into despair” with powerful demonstrations of his military nuclear programme to make his rivals understand “they are bound to lose more than they get” with the expansion of their joint drills.
It comes as Seoul and Washington continue their joint military drills known as Freedom Shield – their largest for five years – which kicked off on March 13.
The US ship, USS Makin Island, docked at a naval base in South Korea’s southeastern port city of Busan on Wednesday, carrying 10 F-35 stealth fighters.
North Korea said the US and South Korea were driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to an “irreversibly dangerous point” with their exercises, and that such moves require its forces to “gird themselves for an all-out war and bolster up its nuclear force both in quality and quantity on a priority basis.”
Pyongyang has long bristled at exercises conducted by South Korean and US forces, saying they are preparation for an invasion of the North.
South Korea and the US say the exercises are purely defensive and have criticised the tests as destabilising and in breach of UN sanctions.
The allies concluded 11 days of their regular springtime exercises, on Thursday, but they have other field training exercises continuing.
The North has fired over 20 ballistic and cruise missiles over 10 different launch events this year as it tries to diversify its delivery systems and display a dual ability to conduct nuclear strikes on both South Korea and the US mainland.
North Korea already is coming off a record year in testing activity, with more than 70 missiles fired in 2022, as Kim accelerated a campaign aimed at forcing the US to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating badly needed sanctions relief from a position of strength.