KCNA later released more details about the exercise, citing that “Haeil was launched near the cape in Riwon Country, South Hamgyeong Province on the morning of March 21st, 2023.”
The state media also added that “Haeil made a ‘lethal’ cruise underwater between a depth of 80m (400ft) to 150m (600ft) for 59 hours and 12 minutes in pre-designated courses, before its warhead successfully detonated at the simulated target near the bay of Hongwon two days after it was launched.”
While further verification is much needed, KCNA strongly claimed in their statement that North Korea had already begun developing an underwater drone with nuclear capabilities as early as 2012. After some nine years into the development, this very secretive drone was awarded a name of ‘Haeil’ in January 2021 during the 8th Congress of the Worker’s Party of Korea was taking place.
After ‘Haeil’ drone got its name, more than 50 test launches were made, of which 29 were directly managed and directed by the country’s leader Kim Jong-Un to verify the capabilities of newly developed suicide drones. The media also reported that ‘Haeil’ drones have achieved FOC (Full Operational Capabilities) by December 2022 after the senior members of the party approved its deployment to frontlines.
The state media also added that :
“These ‘secret weapons’ will be able to secretly sail into enemy’s territorial waters and cause a super-strong radioactive tsunami with an underwater nuclear explosion, destroying strategically important enemy’s ports and groups of warships.”
Allegedly, North Korea’s real intention on revealing the possession of nuclear-capable suicide drones would have been heavily motivated by Ukrainian Navy’s attack on the Russian warships docked at the port of Sevastopol couple months earlier. It is also reminiscent of Russia’s Poseidon nuclear-powered and nuclear armed AUV (albeit, not nearly as capable).
By threatening its adversaries – namely South Korea – with such capabilities, it would give an alarming signal to Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) and the United States Navy (USN) that both are no exceptions for these drones to swarm into their strategically important locations without being detected, potentially causing an irrecoverable damage to their fleet of warships.
As North Korea got one step closer to the next-generation of naval combat, ROK Navy should understand that suicide drones have become the new the standard of North Korea’s ‘suicidal’ strategy and immediately review and evolve its defense tactics to be better prepared for unforeseen circumstances in the Korean Peninsula.