Pyongyang staged mock rehearsal of sub launch

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Pyongyang staged mock rehearsal of sub launch

Ahead of firing its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on April 23, North Korea conducted a practice run earlier in the month, according to U.S. and South Korean intelligence sources on Tuesday.

The practice run took place between April 2 and 6, according to one source, as a submarine stationed at Sinpo in South Hamkyong Province was detected on April 2 moving toward eastern waters, practicing for the April 23 SLBM launch. On the same day, North Korea’s Mangyongbong-92 cruise ship was also detected to have sailed from Wonsan Harbor, in the North’s eastern Kangwon Province, to waters near the SLBM launch location - where it would again be detected on April 23, sailing near the submarine that launched the SLBM.

The source added, “When North Korea fired its SLBM on April 23, the Mangyongbong-92 sailed in eastern waters reaching close to the border of the South Korean and Japanese air defense identification zone (ADIZ), an indication that they expected the SLBM would fly several hundred kilometers.”

Mangyongbong-92 was expected to have been equipped with observation or filming devises to capture the SLBM launch.

However, Pyongyang’s SLBM launch ended in failure, and South Korean officials concluded Sunday that the missile flew just 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) before exploding mid-air.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, in a briefing to the National Assembly, assessed there to be a high likelihood for Pyongyang to carry out a fifth nuclear test, or launch another ballistic missile, around the time of the upcoming North Korean ruling Workers’ Party Congress, scheduled to kick off Friday.

Ryu Jae-seung, the head of the ministry’s Office of National Defense Policy, told the parliamentary National Defense Committee, “North Korea is plotting further strategic provocations such as a nuclear test and the test-fire of its Musudan [intermediate-range ballistic missile] and SLBMs.”

“The Punggye-ri nuclear test site is constantly ready to carry out a nuclear test at any time,” he continued, adding “there exists the possibility of another nuclear test as part of showing [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un’s accomplishments ahead of the upcoming Congress.”

Defense Minister Han Min-koo pointed out, “North Korea has conducted nuclear tests in order to achieve political ends,” as one lawmaker pointed out that only a few months have passed since Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, and wondered whether the North could have made any technical progress during this time. Han pointed out, “Some countries test several times a year.”

Han also said that North Korea’s SLBM test fire showed “progress in some aspects,” such as undersea-ejection capability and initial attitude control.

He added that this could mean the development of the North’s SLBM, which was assessed to take four to five years to put into combat, “could be developed quicker than evaluated.”

The defense minister added, “We do not see that there is plenty of time to respond to SLBMs,” saying that how quickly North Korea advances its SLBM technology depends on how focused it is. “We are preparing for a scenario in which it develops more quickly.” The military previously estimated that it would take at least four years for Pyongyang to put an SLBM into combat.

BY SARAH KIM, SUH JAE-JOON [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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