North Korea announced on Friday that it had conducted a test of its underwater nuclear weapon system, codenamed ‘Haeil-5-23,’ in response to the joint maritime exercises involving South Korea, the United States, and Japan.
The test, carried out in the East Sea, marks the fourth reported instance of North Korea’s development of the ‘Haeil’ unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), reportedly designed to be equipped with tactical nuclear warheads.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the test without specifying the date or providing details on the weapon’s specifications. The move is seen as a response to this week’s naval drills, particularly denouncing the involvement of a U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier as “reckless confrontation hysteria.”
An unnamed spokesman from North Korea’s Ministry of National Defense stated, “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.”
The Haeil UUV, introduced to the public in March last year, has undergone dozens of tests since 2012, according to North Korea. It is described as a maneuverable torpedo with the capability to destroy naval striker groups and major operational ports of the enemy, fitted with tactical nuclear warheads.
While North Korea’s claims are met with skepticism by South Korea’s military, which deems them “exaggerated and manipulated,” and external experts, the Haeil-5-23’s recent test raises concerns amid the ongoing geopolitical tensions. The ambiguity surrounding the UUV’s classification – whether a ‘nuclear attack drone,’ ‘uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV),’ or ‘long-range/long-endurance nuclear torpedo’ – does little to alleviate international unease.
In the latest reported test in April, the Haeil-2 allegedly traveled 621 miles (1000 km) over nearly three days at sea.