North claims ‘eye-opening’ test of an SLBM

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North claims ‘eye-opening’ test of an SLBM

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un directs a submarine-launched ballistic missile test on Saturday afternoon from the city of Sinpo, South Hamgyong. The Rodong Sinmun newspaper released on Sunday several photos of the SLBM test, claiming that it was a “great success.” [RODONG SINMUN]

North Korea conducted a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test on Saturday afternoon, which they claimed as a “great success,” provoking a protest from Seoul.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine off its east coast on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. near the city of Sinpo, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Saturday evening. It was reportedly launched from a 2,000-ton Sinpo-class submarine.

The South’s JCS concluded that the test was a failure. Although the missile was ejected and flew for minutes, it only flew about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), far short of the 300-kilometers minimum range of an SLBM.

Moon Sang-gyun, a spokesman at the Ministry of Defense, said Sunday that Pyongyang may have rushed the SLBM development, but there were clearly some technological advancements in its underwater ejection capabilities.

He said it will take three to four years for the North to deploy the system operationally, although that could be shortened.

While South Korea believes the North has not perfected the technology to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile from a submarine, North Korea said the test-fire was an “eye-opening success,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Sunday.

“It fully confirmed and reinforced the reliability of the Korean-style underwater launching system and perfectly met all technical requirements for carrying out an underwater attack operation,” the KCNA said. It did not elaborate on the specific date, time or location of the test.

“The successful test-fire would help remarkably bolster up the underwater operational capability of the KPA navy,” KCNA quoted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as saying, referring to the Korean People’s Army. “It is now capable of hitting the heads of the South Korean puppet forces and the U.S. imperialists anytime it pleases.”

The North Korean media said Kim directed the test-firing.

South Korean government released a statement Sunday condemning the North’s latest missile launch, saying it is an obvious provocation that requires appropriate measures in close cooperation with related countries and the United Nations Security Council.

Pyongyang has attempted SLBM tests since last year and claimed it has the capability of attacking the U.S. mainland with a ballistic missile launched from a submarine.

Its propaganda website DPRK Today posted a video clip in late March of Washington being attacked by an SLBM from the North.

South Korea’s military and other experts have questioned the North’s claims of success in SLBM tests, saying it is in the early stages of such technology. The North is known to have made SLBM tests in May, November and December of last year.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said any launches using ballistic missile technology are a “clear violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions,” declining to comment on the Saturday test result.

A sea-launched ballistic missile is a serious threat to countries in the region because submerged vessels are more difficult to detect comparing to land-based missile launch sites.

Since early this year, when North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test and a long-range ballistic missile test, the isolated country has taken unprecedented steps to disclose key technologies of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which are all banned under U.N. resolutions.

On March 15, the 33-year-old leader Kim ordered his country to carry out a nuclear warhead test and a ballistic missile test that can carry nuclear warhead “in a few days.”

Much of the military activity is aimed at the 7th Congress of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, which will be held in early May and for the first time in 36 years. Kim wants to boast of many military achievements at that congress.

Satellite imagery of a nuclear test site in Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province, taken recently, shows resumed excavation activity and vehicles outside the entrance of the North Portal area, the site of the 2009 and 2013 tests, the website 38 North said last week.

As a fifth nuclear test is expected to be carried out a few days before or after the congress in Pyongyang, leaders in Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo pledged to take additional measures if the North conducts another such test.

South Korea’s unification minister Hong Yong-pyo said on Thursday that it is not time for a dialogue between the two Koreas, but that pressure from all sides on the North is essential.

Meanwhile, North Korea has deployed around 300 new multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) along its border with South Korea, Yonhap News Agency reported early Sunday, citing military sources.

It said Pyongyang has placed the 122-millimeter rocket launchers north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) since 2014, which can hit Seoul and surrounding areas, with firing range of 40 kilometers.

South Korea’s Defense Minister Han Min-koo said earlier this month, following the North’s 300-milimeter MLRS test, that the North has completed development of large-caliber multiple launch rocket system with a range of 200 kilometers, suggesting it is likely to be deployed at the end of this year.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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