North Korea Tests Sub Launched Missile

Sub Missile Launch

Image from North Korea Information Ministry

North Korea Tests Sub Launched Missile
| published May 9, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

North Korea continues to develop ways to improve its military muscle amid growing concerns that the isolated nation may strike first and ask questions later.

According a variety of news agency and wire service reports, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine on Saturday—the latest in a series of advances meant to show it is capable of waging war. South Korean military intelligence sources and military monitoring groups also say that North Korea tested several anti-ship cruise missiles later the same day as part of maneuvers and readiness tests in the Sea of Japan.

Pyongyang has stepped up its verbal aggression during the last week, a move not necessarily seen as provocative by those familiar with North Korea’s often hyper-inflated threats. But North Korean officials have said twice this week that it intends to fire its newly developed missiles and rockets without warning if it determines that South Korean vessels or other military ships are in violation of its territorial waters.

North Korea already has a sizable arsenal of land-based and vehicle-launched missiles and rockets capable of hitting targets at sea in the coastal waters to its east or west. A submarine based ballistic missile system would give the North Korean military the ability to strike with little—if any—advance notice. And though most American and South Korean military ships have highly advanced missile warning systems on board, North Korea’s test of a submarine launch means that the North now has the ability to fire with little warning upon ships it deems hostile or in violation of its strict definitions of its territorial waters.

Military analysts in the U.S. and Britain say that North Korea’s missile-ready submarines are based on a similar design in common production in the late 1980s and early 1990s. North Korea may have obtained as many as five former Soviet ballistic missile subs from Moscow in the mid-1990s, and Pyongyang’s naval engineers have essentially copied that design, modifying it for North Korea’s purposes. All told, North Korea maintains a fleet of about 70 submarines, and perhaps 10 of those are outfitted for the launch of ballistic missiles.

According to BBC and Reuters reports, Pyongyang has said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally supervised the missile tests at sea. North Korean photos show Kim aboard a small ship, a few hundred yards from where an underwater missile launch is taking place, including at least one photo which shows a ballistic missile rising from the water as Kim points to the rocket. Some in the media are skeptical that a national leader would be standing so close to an actual missile test as sea, suggesting that the image is the result of photographic trickery and digital alterations.

And though most security and military analysts say that North Korea possesses at least a half dozen nuclear warheads, it does not yet have the technological capability to successfully attach those warheads to the type of missiles fired from the vertical tubes in submarines.

Still, North Korea said that the test of the sea-based missiles meant that Pyongyang now has “a world-level strategic weapon capable of striking and wiping out in any waters the hostile forces infringing upon our sovereignty and dignity.”

Related Thursday Review articles:

North Korea: The Emperor’s New Clothes; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review; March 20, 2015.

North Korea’s Nuclear Offer; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; January 11, 2015.