North Korea Unveils "Nuclear-Capable" Drone Torpedo

Courtesy DPRK state media

Published Jul 31, 2023 11:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

The government of North Korea has paraded what it claims to be a quartet of nuclear-capable supertorpedoes, similar in concept to the Russian Status-6 / Poseidon long range nuclear delivery device. 

The North's Haeil nuclear torpedo - or "underwater nuclear attack drone" - made its debut public appearance at a parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of major hostilities in the Korean War. 

Naval analyst H.I. Sutton estimates its size at 50 feet in length, large enough to support a maximum range in the hundreds of nautical miles. He identified three protrusions towards the stern, which could be for snorkeling for diesel-electric operation. Western analysts generally agree that the torpedo has a battery-electric - not nuclear - propulsion system, unlike the Russian version. 

Courtesy DPRK state media

North Korea first announced the existence of a drone mega-torpedo in March, when state media claimed that Leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a trial for a similar device, including a test detonation with an explosive payload. 

The weapon's mission is to penetrate coastal defenses and create "a super-scale radioactive tsunami through underwater explosion to destroy naval striker [sic] groups and major operational ports," according to state outlet KCNA. 

KCNA claimed that the test drone was deployed off the country's east coast and self-navigated to the target site at Hongwon Bay, about 90 nm north of the border with South Korea. The transit took a reported 60 hours and included dives to 500 feet. (South Korea's military has expressed doubt about whether the results were as impressive as reported, or whether the test occurred.) 

The test drone displayed in the images in March (above, with Kim Jong Un) appeared smaller than the articles shown on parade last week, according to Sutton - and the reported performance characteristics might match up better with the newer, larger version. 

North Korea does have nuclear weapons and has conducted six bomb tests to date. Whether it has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and deploy it on a ballistic missile - or a drone super-torpedo - is an unanswered question, and may hinge on the country's future nuclear tests.