This factsheet offers a brief introduction to the ballistic missile submarines of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the associated submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The DPRK operates a relatively large number of Type 033 submarines, which were imported from China or built locally with Chinese assistance. The DPRK has been developing at least one ballistic missile submarine by converting one of these Type 033 submarines.
Intelligence sources from the ROK stated that the Type 033 submarine being converted into a ballistic missile submarine has reached a displacement of 3000 tons. However, as of now, publicly available images could not support this assessment.
Despite the fact that the Type 033 submarines have become outdated, the deployment of a Type 033-based ballistic missile submarine would improve the DPRK’s ability to engage in sudden nuclear attacks and increase the survivability of its mid-range ballistic missiles.
The DPRK has also built a smaller, experimental ballistic missile submarine, which was used to test launch an SLBM in 2016.
The DPRK has test fired and displayed four types of mid-range SLBMs. The number of flight tests is low. It is possible that the four types of SLBMs are all prototype designs representing incremental improvements.
ROK intelligence sources also stated that the DPRK is working on the construction of a third type of submarine, this one with a displacement of 4000 to 5000 tons. The relationship between this submarine and the DPRK’s plan to build nuclear-powered submarines is also unclear at this point but, given the stated displacement, they could be related.