North Korea made a worrying announcement this week as it claimed to have got its hands on the same “radioactive tsunami” weapon that was obtained by Russia earlier this year.
The weapons, which North Korea called a drone and Russia called a torpedo, have previously been referred to as “doomsday” devices due to their potential to trigger radioactive ocean swells that would render coastal areas uninhabitable.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed on Friday that tests of the weapon, which was described as an underwater drone that could unleash a massive radioactive tsunami, had been successful.
The drone could “stealthily infiltrate into operational waters and make a super-scale radioactive tsunami through an underwater explosion to destroy naval strike groups and major operational ports of the enemy”, the report claimed.
KCNA said the drills were personally supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It claimed North Korea had been developing the drone since 2012, with more than 50 tests carried out in the past two years — though its existence was only made public this week.
Russia’s own nuclear tsunami
The reported tests come after Russia announced its own radioactive tsunami-producing weapons earlier this year, which it claimed were being fitted to Russian nuclear submarines.
Russia’s nuclear torpedo, known as Poseidon, was one of president Vladimir Putin’s six so-called “super weapons”.
Moscow claimed the weapon had an unlimited range and could travel at speeds of more than 200km/h, with the device designed to travel undetected through the ocean and detonate once it reaches its target.
“The first batch of Poseidon ammunition has been manufactured and will be soon delivered to special-purpose nuclear-powered submarine Belgorod,” an unnamed source close to the Russian military told state-run media outlet TASS in January.
In a 2018 speech in which he officially confirmed the weapon, Putin said there was “no weapon” that could counter or destroy the nuclear torpedo.
“They are very low noise, have high manoeuvrability and are practically indestructible for the enemy. There is no weapon that can counter them in the world today,” he said.
Previously released simulation videos of Poseidon show the 24-metre weapon destroying an enemy aircraft carrier and hitting the shoreline.
Three days of military test attacks
North Korea’s testing of the purported “nuclear underwater attack drone” was part of a three-day exercise designed to simulate nuclear attacks on unspecified South Korean targets.
It was followed up on Wednesday with a test of cruise missiles that were detected by South Korea’s military. KCNA claimed those tests included four cruise missiles of two different varieties, which supposedly flew for more than two hours in patterns over the sea while demonstrating an ability to strike targets 1500 and 1800 kilometres away.
Another nuclear attack was simulated on Sunday with short-range ballistic missiles, as well as yet more tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the United States.
Korean arms race
Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at a multi-year high, as both North Korea and US-South Korea carry out increasingly frequent military tests and exercises.
KCNA said the latest tests 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”.
On Thursday, the US and South Korea completed an 11-day exercise that included their biggest field training in years. The countries are preparing another round of joint naval drills that will reportedly involve a US aircraft carrier.
The US reportedly plans to deploy aircraft carrier strike groups and other advanced assets to waters off the Korean Peninsula.
In the KCNA report, Mr Kim condemned US-South Korea joint exercises, claiming the allies were rehearsing for an invasion and vowing to make his rivals “plunge into despair”.
Hours later, South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to make his neighbour suffer for the “reckless provocations” as he attended a remembrance service for 55 South Korean troops killed in major clashes between the warring nations in recent years.
North Korean nuclear capability
North Korea is believed to have dozens of nuclear warheads, which it may be capable of fitting to old weapons systems, but experts are divided on the country’s ability to manufacturer nukes to fit the new weapons it constantly claims to be developing.
North Korea has fired more than 20 ballistic and cruise missiles across 10 launch events this year, after a record 70 missiles that were tested in 2022.
On Thursday, South Korean Defence Minister Lee Jong-Sup said North Korea probably had not yet mastered the technology to place nuclear arms on its most-advanced weapons, although he acknowledged that the country was making “significant progress”.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said it was impossible to verify North Korea’s claims about the new drone’s capabilities or how many times it had been tested.
He did, however, express concern at one detail of the report — it explicitly warned that the weapon had enough range to reach all South Korean ports.