South keeps eye on North ahead of possible SLBM unveiling

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South keeps eye on North ahead of possible SLBM unveiling

The South Korean military is eyeing the possibility of North Korea unveiling a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) at a military parade marking the 76th anniversary of the establishment of the Workers' Party next month, according to intelligence officials Monday.
 
“North Korean troops are preparing for a military parade at Mirim Airfield in Pyongyang, and there is a possibility that the new SLBM will be unveiled,” said a South Korean intelligence official who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on the condition of anonymity.
 
Without specifying the means by which the information was gathered, the official added, “South Korea and the United States are monitoring North Korea’s movements with all of their reconnaissance assets.”
 
The U.S. Air Force's ground surveillance reconnaissance aircraft, the Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint Stars), has been reported as active in the skies above the Korean Peninsula earlier last month by aircraft tracking website Radar Box.
 
According to Radar Box on Saturday and Sunday, the United States' Boeing RC-135S Cobra Ball, which detects ballistic missiles, departed from Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, and entered the Yellow Sea west of the Korean Peninsula.
 
Another U.S. aircraft, the high-altitude Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, also flew over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday, crisscrossing over the Seoul metropolitan area and Gangwon several times in an east-west direction while maintaining its distance from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which divides the two Koreas.
 
North Korea held two nighttime parades in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square within the past year, one marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party on Oct. 10, 1945, and another marking the eighth party convention in January.
 
During the parade last October, the North unveiled its new SLBM, named Pukguksong-4, while Pukguksong-5 was released in January. Experts believe that the military parades serve a dual purpose to celebrate the regime’s achievements while also drawing outside attention to new weapons.
 
SLBMs are strategic weapons considered essential to maintaining a country’s retaliatory or second strike capability should it come under a nuclear attack.
 
They are more difficult to detect than ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which require conspicuous launching facilities that can be more easily detected through satellite and air reconnaissance.
 
However, the North’s development of weapons over the past year has not stopped at SLBMs.
 
The International Atomic Energy Agency on Aug. 27 released a report on North Korea's nuclear development that pointed to signs that the reclusive country restarted its Yongbyon nuclear complex in July.
 
Analysts believe that by unveiling its new SLBMs and restarting its Yongbyon nuclear facility, North Korea is ramping up pressure on its foes — chiefly the United States — to ease international sanctions, and that demonstrations of its nuclear weapons and missile arsenal are targeted shows of force for both foreign watchers as well its domestic audience.

BY MICHAEL LEE, PARK YONG-HAN [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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