Defense engineers in North Korea are frustrated with regime leader Kim Jong Un’s boastful behavior regarding the development of new weapons technology, sources said, following an announcement that the country had successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine earlier this month.
On May 9, the official Korean Central News Agency reported “an underwater test-fire of [North] Korean-style powerful strategic submarine ballistic missile,” adding that the weapon had been developed “on the personal initiative of … Kim Jong Un … and under his meticulous guidance.”
“The test-fire proved and confirmed that the ballistic missile fired from the submarine fully met the requirements of the latest military science and technology,” the report said, quoting Kim as heaping praise on “the officials, scientists and technicians in the field of defense science” for their work.
But sources inside the hermit kingdom told RFA’s Korean Service that the report had provoked “an intense argument” among the country’s submarine technicians, who believe the publicity surrounding the launch will have “a negative impact,” although they are unable to openly criticize the move.
A source in Jagang province, along the border with China, said the technicians were concerned that news of the development could lead South Korean submarines to monitor subs from the North and potentially destroy them before they can launch the missiles or, at the least, allow foreign nations to determine the limitations of the technology.
“North Korean scientists are concerned that the capacity of new weapons is being exposed because of Kim Jong Un’s exhibitionism,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
According to the source, Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong Il “had never disclosed the development of new weapons” before his death from a heart attack in December 2011.
“If a … launch is disclosed, [the U.S., South Korea and other foreign nations] could get a better grasp of how well [North Korean] missiles work, using computer-based simulations,” the source said.
A second source from North Hamgyong province told RFA that North Korea had developed a “semi-submarine” at a shipyard in the provincial capital Cheongjin with a maximum speed of 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour) above water, 17 kilometers per hour (11 miles per hour) underwater and a maximum diving depth of 30 meters (98 feet).
The semi-sub was put into military production in 2013 with a maximum crew of four soldiers when equipped with two torpedoes and 10 soldiers without, but technicians at the Cheongjin shipyard later doubled the ship’s personnel capacity, earning praise from the country’s leadership.
“Since 2014, North Korea has a semi-submarine which can be equipped with four torpedoes while carrying eight soldiers, or 20 soldiers when not equipped with torpedoes,” the source said, adding that “the same factory [which developed the sub] is producing an improved motor for hovercrafts.”
In early April, he said, technicians at the shipyard were forced to block an official film crew from producing a documentary on the new submarine at the behest of the Workers’ Party Committee of Production Units, arguing that the technology was too sensitive to be shown.
“The Workers’ Party committee tried to persuade them, saying the film had been ordered by the central authorities, but it didn’t work,” the source said.
“North Korean scientists and technicians have a lot of complaints about Kim Jong Un, who is constantly showing off new weapons,” he said.
‘Military first’ policy
Nuclear-armed North Korea’s military was founded 83 years ago and is older than the country itself. It began as an anti-Japanese militia and is now the heart of the nation’s “military first” policy.
North Korea, a country of about 25 million, has an estimated 7.7 million army reserves.
Kim Jong Un in 2013 instructed the North Korean People’s Army to focus on a “nuclear arms force,” but it is believed to be operating on outdated materials and short supplies.
Reported by Sung-Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.