North’s recent sub launch was a failure

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North’s recent sub launch was a failure

South Korean and U.S. intelligences sources concluded Sunday that the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), which North Korea claims to have successfully launched on April 23, in fact exploded in midair, ending in failure.

Using radar data, intelligence officials here closely analyzed the trajectory of the KN-11 SLBM, which was reportedly fired from a 2,000-ton Sinpo-class submarine from North Korea’s east coast, near the city of Sinpo, South Hamgyong. Officials concluded that the missile flew just 30 kilometers (98,400 feet) before exploding.

A South Korean government official added, “After the SLBM exploded in midair, it is seen to have broken off into two or three pieces.” This happened before booster separation.

North Korean state media, however, reported on April 24 that the test fire was a “great success,” although the South Korean military said at the time that it remained doubtful and that the test fell far short of the 300-kilometers minimum range of an SLBM.

But experts here did point to a certain level of progress for Pyongyang in launching the ballistic missile to the water’s surface.

Analysts point out that, ahead of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party’s upcoming congress, scheduled for Friday, North Korean officials would have been pressured to produce a successful SLBM launch within a short period of time. Pyongyang’s preparation for a fifth nuclear test is considered by some a means of consolidating power for the Kim Jong-un regime.

North Korean launched two Rodong ballistic missiles on March 18, with one exploding in midair. On April 15, the launch of a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile also ended with a midair explosion. Two more Musudan missiles were launched Thursday, but both also ended in failure.

The North conducted its first SLBM test in May 2015.

Pyongyang has, over the past year, attempted several SLBM tests and claimed it has the capability of attacking the U.S. mainland with a ballistic missile launched from a submarine. The North does not have nuclear-powered submarines capable of crossing the Pacific Ocean undetected to reach the United States. Nonetheless, its aged diesel-powered underwater vessels, capable of launching ballistic missiles, in addition to its nuclear arms program, are game-changers for Northeast Asia.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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