The Chinese may be helping North Korea design and build ballistic missile submarines, by supplying technical assistance.

At present, the North Korean navy has one experimental Sinpo-B-class diesel-electric submarine it is using for testing, while a more advanced Sinpo-C-class boat may currently be under construction.

As two prominent U.S. experts on submarine technology note, developing the launch mechanisms for ballistic missile submarines is extraordinarily difficult. However, Pyongyang is making extremely rapid technological progress compared to much more sophisticated states that have developed such technologies in the past. That suggests there might be an outside hand involved in providing technical expertise.

“Building an SLBM and SSB (or SSBN) is very technically challenging – launch system, proper navigation inputs to missile prior to launch, proper depth-keeping for submarine, etc.,” retired U.S. Navy submariner Thomas Callender, currently a senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation and former director of capabilities at the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy (Policy) told The National Interest.

“From the short time between failed missile ejection and successful ejection (Nov 2015-July 2016), it would appear that North Korea is receiving technical help from the Chinese. If you look at how long it took the Chinese and Indians to develop their indigenous SLBMs and SSBNs (15-20 years), North Korea is progressing much more rapidly especially in correcting issues after failures.” [source]

At present, the North Koreans appear to be on pace to field a functional SLBM sub force consisting of at least two vessels by the mid-2020s, though the subs are not expected to have modern quieting technology, making them easier to detect.

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