Building a new submarine fleet seems to be on top of the priority list for North Korea. It has come at a time when Pyongyang has been making progress with its weapons technology while also posing threats to other countries because of its missile launches.
According to a Reuters report, satellite images from 10 August have revealed that the isolated country has a new construction hall that has come up at its Sinpo submarine base on the east coast.
It is, however, not clear if the new hall would house a new class of submarines, but the new structure is reportedly being built alongside a revamped pier inside the base. At the same time, it reportedly does not have a fleet of submarines yet that can launch any newly developed missile.
On 24 August, Kim Jong-un's country fired a ballistic missile from a submarine off its east coast that reportedly flew about 500km (300 miles) before landing near Japan's territory in the East Sea.
Moon Keun-sik, a retired South Korean submarine captain said: "North Korea will be or is already in the process of building a newer, bigger submarine that may happen as early as next year."
Meanwhile, it has also emerged that the North may not have developed a nuclear weapon yet.
In March, the North boasted about its abilities to develop miniature warheads despite doubts that it can acquire or develop the technology. Leader Kim Jong-un announced then that his reclusive kingdom had miniaturised warheads that could be mounted on ballistic missiles.
However, Reuters reported on Wednesday (31 August) that it is not clear if the country has indeed developed a nuclear weapon as no evidence was available to ascertain it. But last week, Kim had stressed the need to speed up the mounting of nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles following testing of its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SBLM). He said it was needed to gear up for an "unpredicted" war with the US.
An analysis of recent satellite images seen by the news agency reported that Pyongyang has modernised or expanded three of its major factories that produce machine parts of its nuclear and missile programmes. The UN and the US have sanctions against the country for test-launching its ballistic missiles.
"North Korea has dramatically increased the pace of missile testing and invested heavily in modernising its factories that produce them, something we can see in satellite images," Jeffrey Lewis from the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said. "These investments have paid off with the recent test of a solid-fuelled submarine-launched missile, but North Korea has not yet completed development of a submarine to carry that missile."
Kim's assertion about miniaturising a nuclear warhead came at a time when tensions were running high in the Korean peninsula following Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January, despite several sanctions slapped against the country. It also threatened its rivals — South Korea and the US, which said it has to be taken as a "credible threat".
Yang Uk, senior defence researcher and a policy adviser to the South Korean navy, believes the North is capable of developing a miniature nuclear weapon. "But they don't have any standardised warhead yet to put on missiles. They keep gathering data through nuclear tests and working to standardise a warhead."