North may launch missile from subSouth Korean admitted for the first time the possibility that North Korea has developed submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
“We have detected an object, believed to be related to a vertical launcher that allows the North to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine,” an official of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff told the JoongAngIlbo. “The South and the United States are doing an analysis.”
A North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile program is considered one of the worst security nightmares for the United States as it enables Pyongyang to attack not only U.S. bases in the Pacific but also parts of the U.S. mainland.
In a report submitted earlier to Rep. Jin Sung-joon of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, a member of the National Defense Committee of the National Assembly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the issue.
“As of now, there is no verified intelligence that the North actually operates missiles from its submarines,” the report said. “But we recently detected the possibility that the North might have equipped its submarines with missiles.”
Although the expression was ambiguous, the military authority apparently admitted the possible development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability by the North.
If the North succeeds in the operational deployment of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, it will drastically reshape the North Korea strategies of the South and the United States.
Analysts said the North probably based its system on the Soviet-built R-27 submarine-launched ballistic missile. Developed in 1967, the R-27 has a range of 2,400 to 4,000 kilometers (1491 to 2485 miles). If the North launches a missile from the Yellow Sea, it could reach U.S. bases in Okinawa, Japan and even Guam.
The threat is serious because it is difficult to detect a submarine by military satellite or drone. If a North Korea submarine were to reach the waters north of Sakhalin Island and launched a missile, it could hit a target in Alaska.
A submarine-launched ballistic missile capability would also challenge the South Korean military’s efforts to complete the “Kill Chain”, a pre-emptive missile destruction system targeting the source of the missiles.
“If the North manages to operationally deploy submarine-launched ballistic missiles, it will secure another powerful asymmetrical capability in addition to nuclear arms,” a military official said. “That is the worst nightmare for South Korea and the United States.”
Until now, the military authority has denied the possibility of North Korea having a submarine-launched ballistic missile system. It said a ballistic missile can only be carried by a submarine larger than a Golf-class, weighing up to 3,500 tons, and the North was believed to only have smaller Romeo-class submarines. Technical difficulties hinder a 1,800-ton submarine to be equipped with a vertical launch system.
A submarine featured in June in the RodongShinmun, a newspaper of the North’s Workers’ Party, was a Romeo-class.
“Most of the submarines that the North is building these days are smaller than 1,000 tons for infiltration or landing,” said another official from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We have no intelligence that the North is building a Golf-class submarine.”
But Jane’s Fighting Ships reported in 1994 that the North had purchased 40 retired submarines, including Golf-class and Romeo-class models, from Russia. A USSR-built Golf-class submarine is capable of carrying a vertical launcher for three ballistic missiles.
“The Soviet Union completed a Golf-class submarine decades ago,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defense and Security Forum. “We cannot conclude definitely that the North has not built one, so we must watch the situation carefully.”
BY YOO SEONG-UN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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