10.04.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Large Military Exercises End on the Korean Peninsula but “Spring Fever” Goes On

Haeil - a new underwater nuclear weapon

While we concentrated on the March 23 shooting in last week’s Chronicle of Moving to the Dangerous Line, the Korean Central News Agency broke news on March 24 that merits separate thought as Pyongyang laid another set of trump cards on the table.

The recent “confrontational hysteria of the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppet regime of traitors” is unparalleled in its recklessness and danger, according to the North. Moreover, they intend to continue to get “more frantic in their persistent military provocations to aggravate the situation as ever with a more aggressive stand of confrontation“. It requires DPRK “to make its entire armed forces gird themselves for an all-out war and bolster up its nuclear force both in quality and quantity on a priority basis.”

The latest KCNA article made it clear that the cruise missile launch we previously described involved two missiles of two distinct types, Hwasal-1 and Hwasal-2, and that each of the missiles was outfitted with a nuclear weapons simulator.

However, it is possible that the missiles were launched from underwater. Some reports claim that North Korea has developed a strategic cruise missile that can be launched by modifying the torpedo launcher. This creates a really intriguing scenario because the DPRK has a fairly sizable submarine fleet, which is largely made up of small boats that were previously more ideal for sabotage activity in coastal seas. (The South Koreans believe that this is how the ROKS Cheonan sinking happened). However, if such submarines carry at least one missile with a potential nuclear warhead, the enemy faces significant challenges because a successful pre-emptive strike requires “catching them all.”

Even nonetheless, this was not really exciting news. The Haeil, a new autonomous underwater vehicle which can generate a gigantic ‘radioactive tsunami’ and quietly strike its adversaries, was successfully tested by North Korea on March 24, according to the KCNA. This Haeil autonomous underwater vehicle was deployed on the east coast of Riwŏn in South Hamgyong Province. It changed its course frequently while buried for 59 hours at a depth of 80 to 150 meters. On March 23, in the late afternoon, the drone reached its objective in the waters of Hongwon Bay, which was acting as an enemy port, with the test warhead submerged. If fired from commercial ships, it could reach US bases in Japan and Guam and has a long enough range to target all South Korean ports.

The Haeil is referred to as the Kimseidon by analogy with the Kimskander because, in the opinion of Vladimir Khrustalev, a Russian military expert, it is somewhere between the Russian Poseidon, conventional nuclear torpedoes, and the now fashionable high autonomy underwater drones. The importance of this weapon is significant It is crucial for both sides to cut down the communication channels that allow troops and supplies to reach the theater of operations in the event that war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula. This calls for the destruction of a number of ports on Japanese and ROK soil, which could require disproportionate force and time to accomplish with conventional weapons.

As the experience of the 1946 underwater nuclear explosion at Bikini Atoll usually illustrates, a nuclear explosion, particularly one that occurs underwater and is accompanied by a tsunami, is actually a fantastic opportunity to deliver a single strike. A charge of 20 to 40 kilotons can reliably send out massive radioactive waves of boiling water that will destroy nearby ships and port buildings within a few kilometers. This is enough to completely destroy a large commercial port or naval base. Despite the obvious number of casualties, the author remarks that if such attacks occur, it will be a battle of annihilation in which there will be no point crying over spilled milk.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Kim Jong-un paid a visit to the DPRK Institute of Nuclear Weapons on March 27, where he “supervised the case of putting nuclear weapons into service.” Kim “familiarized himself with the technical situation of the state system of integrated control of nuclear weapons information system, the science, reliability, and safety of which have been strictly confirmed in the recent comprehensive tactical exercises on practicing a conventional nuclear counterattack.” As Vladimir Khrustalev pointed out, this suggests that “the DPRK’s system for managing nuclear forces is rapidly improving.” Level C4 (Command, Control, Communications, Computers) has been reached.

In giving instructions, the North Korean leader stressed the need to “expand the production of weapon-grade nuclear materials, powerful nuclear weapons,” and photos published by the KCNA show at least ten tactical nuclear warheads called Hwasan-31 (Vulcan-31). The presence of markings on them may suggest serial production, implying that there are a great deal more than a dozen of them. The warhead’s diameter is approximately 40-50 cm, the likely yield is less than 10 kilotons, and its compactness allows it to be installed on a variety of carriers.

On the same day, March 27, a “missile unit taking on the important task of a firing strike on the central front” practised receiving and confirming orders for a nuclear attack: a tactical ballistic missile equipped with a simulated nuclear warhead exploded 500 meters above the target.

Furthermore, on March 27, the DPRK launched two short-range ballistic missiles (supposedly capable of carrying KN-23 nuclear warheads) from the Chunghwa County, North Hwanghae Province, that travelled 370 kilometers at an altitude of 50 kilometers and landed in the Sea of Japan.

This sparked amazement, confusion, and yet another wave of conjecture in the Western world that Russian assistance was involved, given that a negative evaluation of North Korea’s military capacity has dominated the “expert market” for quite some time. After all, a totalitarian administration is only capable of achieving accomplishments in terms of propaganda, and then the “cartoon reality” replaces the real one.

As a result, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said “they are still evaluating information on the warheads to determine whether they are operational.” In general, the Pyongyang’s claims on the nuclear submarine drone might have been exaggerated or fabricated, they believe.

By the way, as they completed their block of maneuvers, the Southerners were also active. The primary event was a joint drill between the Republic of Korea Navy and the 11th United States Carrier Strike Group, which was led by the Nimitz aircraft carrier. The Aegis-equipped destroyer Sejong the Great, the destroyer Choi Yong, and the logistics ship roks Hwacheon participated in the exercise, which took place in international waters south of Jeju Island.

Rear Admiral Christopher Sweeney, commander of the 11th Carrier Strike Group, spoke to the press onboard the aircraft carrier carrying roughly 70 aircraft and emphasized the partners’ readiness to fight the North Korean threat: “The United States has strategic assets ready to deploy on a daily basis… We are serious about bolstering international security and the global commons.”

General Kim Seung-kyum, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed the exercises onboard the American aircraft carrier on March 27 and stated that Pyongyang’s actions endanger security on the Korean Peninsula and in the area. He emphasized that the ROK-US alliance is capable of responding forcefully to any provocation. Kim Seung-kyom emphasized that the naval exercises featuring a strike group led by an American aircraft carrier were both a demonstration of the ROK-US partnership and a deterrent to Pyongyang.

The Republic of Korea Navy and the United States Marine Corps performed an amphibious landing exercise in the Pohang district of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, 272 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 29. This was the main component of the Ssangneung-2023 joint exercise, which included division-level airborne troops, around 30 ships, more than 70 planes and helicopters, and 50 amphibious assault vehicles. The exercise was conducted in conditions as close to combat as possible. Aircraft and ships aided in the landing of troops. General Kim Seung-kyum, Chairman of the ROK Armed Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul LaCamera, commander of US military forces in the ROK, Admiral Lee Jong-ho, commander of the ROK Navy, and other representatives of the two countries’ military command attended the exercise.

At this point, the spring fever seems to end, and the author is glad that it passed without “accidental incidents.”

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia, the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.


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