North Korea says it has tested another underwater nuclear drone

SEOUL — North Korea on Friday claimed to have conducted a test of an “underwater nuclear weapons system,” a claim that would dramatically escalate concerns that Kim Jong Un is girding for war.

The official Korean Central News Agency on Friday reported that the test was carried out in response to joint military drills between the United States, South Korea and Japan, which it said were “seriously threatening the security” of the North.

North Korea claimed it tested a “Haeil 5-23” system that it has been developing in the East Sea, or Sea of Japan, according to KCNA.

This appears to be a new model of the unmanned, nuclear-capable underwater attack drone called “Haeil,” or “tsunami,” that North Korea claimed to have twice tested last year.

North Korea is developing a variety of nuclear-capable weapons as it builds up its arsenal, but analysts have said it is unclear whether its underwater system is ready for deployment and that it likely adds little to its existing military capabilities.

That didn’t stop North Korea from talking up the test. “Our military’s underwater nuclear defense readiness condition has been further perfected,” KCNA said Friday, adding that it will continue actions to deter “military aggression” by the U.S. and its allies.

The test comes as North Korea as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula, with Pyongyang becoming increasingly fiery in its rhetoric on preparing the country for war. North Korea this week claimed to have fired a medium-range missile with a hypersonic warhead, a highly maneuverable weapon that could travel at five times the speed of sound.

Although the North Korean regime is notorious for bombastic threats, it has become increasingly aggressive in recent months, leading some analysts to question whether Kim wants to pick a fight with the United States.

The American, South Korean and Japanese militaries have this week been carrying out join naval exercises, involving USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier. They are aimed at bolstering the countries’ deterrence and response capabilities against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat as well as maritime threats, according to the South Korean military.

North Korea views the joint drills as hostile acts that justify building up its own nuclear deterrent. In Friday’s statement, North Korea described the drills as training conducted by “military gangs.”

“Our army’s underwater nuke-based countering posture is being further rounded off and its various maritime and underwater responsive actions will continue to deter the hostile military maneuvers of the navies of the U.S. and its allies,” an unnamed defense ministry spokesman said in a statement, according to KCNA.

North Korea said it “will never condone the enemy’s reckless military confrontation madness.” “We strongly condemn the reckless actions of the United States and its followers … and solemnly warn of the catastrophic consequences that will result from this,”it said.

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