SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea announced Wednesday that it had successfully tested-fired a new ballistic missile from a sub-sea vessel. This was its first underwater test-launch in nearly two years, and it claims it will increase its undersea capabilities.
As North Korea intensifies pressure on Washington, Seoul and Seoul to end what Pyongyang considers hostile policies like joint U.S./South Korea military drills or international sanctions against the North, the Tuesday test was the fifth round in missile launches since September.
The North Korean state-run Korean Central News Agency stated that the latest test "will greatly contribue to putting the defense tech of the country at a high level" and to improving the navy's underwater operational capability. It also said that the missile had advanced control guidance technologies, including flank mobility and skip mobility.
On Tuesday, the North's neighbours claimed that they had detected the missile firing from North Korea and that the weapon was landing in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. The missile was described by South Korea's military as a short-range submarine-launched missile. It was launched from waters close to Sinpo, an area where North Korea maintains a large shipyard that builds submarines.
KCNA stated Tuesday's launch was from the "same 8.24 Yongung vessel," a submarine North Korea claimed it used to conduct its first submarine launched strategic ballistic missile test. North Korea published photos showing a missile rising above the sea and emitting bright flames. One image shows what appears to be a submarine at the surface of the ocean.
North Korea's last SLBM test was in October 2019. Experts from abroad believe that the North launched the missile using a submersible barge rather than a submarine.
Tuesday's launch by North Korea was the most prominent since January, when President Joe Biden assumed office. Biden's administration repeatedly stated that it is open to resume nuclear diplomacy without conditions with North Korea. These overtures have been rejected by the North, who stated that U.S. hostility is unchanged.
The launch took place days before Sung Kim (Biden's special representative on North Korea) was due to travel to Seoul to meet with allies about the possibility of restarting diplomacy.
Kim met with his South Korean, Japanese and Japanese counterparts in Washington. He stressed the U.S.'s condemnation of the launch. The United States also condemned the violation of multiple U.N Security Council resolutions. Kim asked Pyongyang not to make further provocations and instead "engage in sustained, substantive dialogue," the State Department stated.
At the request of the United States, and the United Kingdom, the U.N. Security Council has scheduled emergency closed consultations with North Korea.
Kim Dong-yub is a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies. He said that the North Korean weapon it tested Tuesday was likely derived its KN-23 nuclear-capable missile. Its highly maneuverable and low-trajectory flight gives it greater chances of evading missile defenses.
Nobuo Kishi, the Japanese Defense Minister, stated Tuesday that the North Korean missile traveled 600 km (360 miles) on an "unusual trajectory".
Moon Keun-sik is a South Korean submarine expert and teaches at Kyonggi University. "North Korea wants to build more powerful SLBMs, which can be fired from large submarines like the U.S.
North Korea has worked hard over the years to obtain the capability to launch nuclear-armed missiles using submarines. This is the next piece of an arsenal that includes many weapons, including one with the potential to reach American soil.
Experts warn that it will take many years and large amounts of technology for the highly sanctioned country to build even a few submarines capable of traveling quietly on the seas and carrying out strikes.
North Korea is home to about 70-90 diesel-powered subs. This makes it one of the largest submarine fleets in the world. They are mostly old and can launch only mines and torpedoes, not missiles. Moon stated that the North Korean vessel used in the 2016 SLBM Test is the only one capable of firing a missile. However, it has a single launch tub and experts refer to it as a test platform rather than an operational weapons system.
North Korea revealed a 2,000-ton-class submarine in 2019 with missile launch tubes, but it has not been confirmed that the submarine is operationally ready for use. North Korea is attempting to build larger submarines, including one that can be powered by nuclear energy.
Kim, the analyst said that the missile test Tuesday was likely a small-sized weapon, which was displayed at a defense fair last week. Professor Kim said that North Korea plans to load the missile onto the submarine it revealed in 2019, while also placing larger SLBMs on larger subs.
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report on North Korea's military capabilities this month. It stated that Pyongyang's pursuit of submarine-launched missile capabilities and its steady development land-based mobile long range weapons highlights Pyongyang’s desire to "build a reliable, survivable nuclear delivery capability."
Experts believe that North Korea may continue its weapons testing for several more months before it stops them. This is in light of the Winter Olympics scheduled for February in China, which is its last major ally. In violation of the 2018 self-imposed moratorium, the North could launch long-range missiles that directly threaten the U.S. mainland. This would be a way for the North to increase its pressure campaign.
The U.S. and North Korea are currently at a standstill in their nuclear negotiations. This is due to disagreements about the lifting of U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea in return for North Korea's denuclearization steps.