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North Korea Claims Test of Nuclear-Capable Long Range Torpedo

KCNA torpedo
Image courtesy KCNA

Published Mar 23, 2023 11:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

North Korea has tested what it claims to be an unmanned nuclear-capable torpedo, a class of munitions not previously known to be in the country's arsenal. 

According to North Korean state news outlet KCNA, the weapon has been in development for more than a decade. The outlet claimed that Leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a trial for the device on March 21-23, including a test detonation with an explosive payload. 

KCNA claims that the drone was deployed off the country's east coast and self-navigated to the target site at Hongwon Bay, about 90 nm north of the border with South Korea. The transit took a reported 60 hours at depths of up to 500 feet. 

The weapon's mission is to penetrate coastal defenses and create "a super-scale radioactive tsunami through underwater explosion to destroy naval striker [sic] groups and major operational ports," according to KCNA. 

North Korea makes frequent claims in connection with its arms development programs, and the latest test will be scrutinized closely by analysts in South Korea and the West for accuracy. 

The most prominent nuclear-torpedo program currently in operation is the Russian Navy's Poseidon (Status-6) device, a nuclear-powered, thermonuclear-armed unmanned submersible with a claimed intercontinental capability. Russia claims its payload to be in the megatons. The Russian Navy has been testing the Poseidon for years, and it was formally unveiled in 2018. In January, Russia's defense ministry claimed that the first batch of operational weapons has been manufactured. 

As a concept, the heavy nuclear torpedo dates back to the Soviet era. In the early 1950s, the Soviet Navy developed the Project 627 submarine, a manned attack sub designed to carry one massive 35-tonne nuclear-armed torpedo. As with the Poseidon and the North Korean device, the Project 627's objective was to spread a wave of contaminated water over the target area. The project was discontinued before construction.