North Korea Test-Fired Missile From Submarine: South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea flight-tested a ballistic missile that was likely fired from a submarine on Saturday, South Korea’s military said, continuing a provocative streak in weapons demonstrations that may culminate with a nuclear test in the coming weeks or months.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launch occurred from waters near the eastern port city of Sinpo, where North Korea has a major shipyard building submarines. It said the short-range missile flew 600 kilometers (372 miles) at a maximum altitude of 60 kilometers (37 miles) but it didn’t immediately provide details about the submarine that would have been involved in the launch.

South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials were analyzing the launch, the military said, describing it as a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a “serious threatening act that harms international peace and stability.”

Japanese Defense Minister Nobu Kishi told reporters that the missile fell outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone and that no damage to aircraft or vessels was reported.

South Korea’s national security director Suh Hoon and other senior officials during an emergency meeting denounced the launch and urged North Korea to return to long-stalled talks aimed at defusing the nuclear standoff, Seoul’s presidential office said.

It was apparently North Korea’s first demonstration of a submarine-launched ballistic missile system since October last year, when it fired a new short-range missile from the 8.24 Yongung – its only known submarine capable of launching a missile. The October underwater launch was the North’s first in two years.

Both the Japanese and South Korean militaries detected an alleged ballistic missile firing from Pyongyang. Both exercises come ahead of the inauguration on Tuesday of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher approach over the North’s nuclear ambitions.

Yoon’s office said in a statement that his government will pursue “actual deterrence ability” against the North’s nuclear and missile threat, but didn’t specify how. Yoon has vowed to strengthen South Korea’s defense in conjunction with its alliance with the United States, which he said would include enhancing missile striking capabilities.

North Korea fired 15 missiles this year. They include the country’s first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March that demonstrated a potential range to reach the entirety of the U.S. mainland.

North Korea has been clearly exploiting a favorable environment to push forward its weapons program with the U.N. Security Council divided and effectively paralyzed over Russia’s war on Ukraine. Experts say that North Korea’s unusually high pace of testing indicates a strategy to convince the United States to recognize the North as an independent nuclear power. They also want to remove the crippling sanctions.

Also, there are signs that North Korea may be restoring tunnels to a nuclear testing site. This is where the North conducted its sixth nuclear test and final nuclear test in September 2017. It could also possibly prepare for an explosive test. Analysts believe that the North may use another nuclear test in order to prove it is capable of building small-range nuclear weapons for its growing arsenal of short-range weapons that threaten South Korea and Japan.

Jalina Porter, the U.S. State Department’s deputy spokesperson, said during a briefing Friday that the United States assesses that North Korea could be ready to conduct a nuclear test at its Punggye-ri test site as early as this month.

Kim Jong Un is the North Korean leader and has made a series of statements to punctuate his latest missile testing with threats that the North might use its nuclear weapons proactively if it’s threatened or provoked. Experts believe such rhetoric could signal an escalatory nuclear doctrine, which would raise more concerns for Japan and South Korea.

Kim spoke one of those words during a Pyongyang parade on April 25. There, he showed off the best weapons of his military nuke program including ICBMs. Also, he demonstrated what looked to be a brand new type missile, designed to fire from submarines.

“(North Korea’s) submarine technology probably remains short of being able to stay at sea for extended periods while avoiding detection. But the ability to launch ballistic missiles from a submarine would further complicate missions to neutralize and defend against North Korea’s nuclear forces,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University.

According to him, the Kim regime is preparing to test a miniature nuclear weapon that can be used to arm both its tactical and submarine-launched missiles as well as multiple warheads for its ICBMs.

North Korea has worked hard to get the capability to fire nuke-armed missiles out of submarines. It would, theoretically, increase its ability to deter and retaliate after it absorbs a land-based nuclear attack.

Ballistic missile submarines would also add a new maritime threat to the North’s growing collection of solid-fuel weapons fired from land vehicles, which are being developed with an apparent aim to overwhelm missile defense systems in South Korea and Japan.

In recent years, the North has been testing and developing a range of missiles called Pukguksong. These can be launched from either submarines or on land vehicles. However, experts warn that it would take a great deal more effort by the highly sanctioned country to create at least a handful of submarines that can travel silently in waters and execute strikes reliably.

According to the Japanese and South Korean militaries, the North Korean missile that was fired Wednesday reached 500 km (310 miles), at an altitude of 800 km (500 miles). The North Korean media has yet to comment about the test.

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