WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea may be building a new submarine for launching missiles, a U.S. website that monitors the isolated nation's weapons development said Friday.
The website, 38 North, said that commercial satellite imagery strongly suggests a new naval construction program is underway at the Sinpo South Shipyard where North Korea has built most of its submarines.
International concern over the North's naval capabilities has intensified since it successfully tested a submarine-launched missile from a submerged position off Sinpo in August that flew an estimated 500 kilometers (310 miles) toward the seas around Japan. Development of that capability would add a weapon that is harder to detect before launch than its land-based missiles.
In its analysis Friday, 38 North said a large circular component seen in imagery from Sept. 24 suggests North Korea could be building a submarine larger than its current experimental vessel that is being developed for missile launches. However, the evidence is inconclusive.
"Given the North's active program to develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile, the construction of a new submarine to carry them makes perfect sense. If that proves to be the case, it is just one more indication that Pyongyang is moving full steam ahead in deploying an operational weapon," said Joel Wit, a former State Department official and editor of 38 North.
On Sept. 9, North Korea conducted its largest nuclear test explosion to date, fueling worries that it is making progress in miniaturizing a nuclear device and moving closer to its goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could one day strike the U.S. mainland.