A Sputnik moment?
North Korea announced it succeeded in firing a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on May 9. Its state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released a photo showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watching a presumably successful launch of a missile from underwater.
The KCNA reported that Kim said it was a remarkable achievement on par with the launch of satellites into space, comparing it to a “time bomb attached to the backs of our enemies when the SLBMs enter a mass-production phase and are deployed in battle.” If proven true, it marks an alarming turning point in Pyongyang’s nuclear threats.
Military experts assume that North Korea likely succeeded in launching missiles from undersea - the last phase of the development of SLBMs - despite potential exaggerations by the recalcitrant regime. The North has been testing the launch of the missiles on the ground and underwater from mid 2014 after commissioning a 2,000-ton class strategic submarine by redesigning a former Soviet Union’s Golf-class submarine. If the North successfully has completed the test in less than a year by using a vertical launching tube, it could hint at a possibility of deploying the SLBMs within 2 years at most.
The SLBMs, if fired from submarines penetrating deep into our waters, are nearly impossible to intercept - a critical difference from ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or aircraft-launched ballistic missiles (ALBMs). If North Korea becomes the sixth country possessing SLBMs following the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China, a preemptive nuclear strike against the North would be almost impossible. The North’s possession of SLBMs is a game changer on nuclear issues and will pose a serious challenge to the international community, including America and Japan.
That calls for a drastic revision of our strategy to deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear threats, as it would make obsolete the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) and Kill Chain systems which our government is trying to introduce to counter the North’s nuclear attacks. Such defense systems aimed at destroying ground-based missiles cannot cope with the SLBM attacks from North Korea.
If the North deploys SLBMs around our seas, it will mark a Sputnik moment that demands a colossal shift in the world’s perception of North Korean nuclear threats, not to mention pose a dilemma for China and Russia. The government must find effective ways to cope with the newfound threat through a close exchange of intelligence with Uncle Sam.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 11, Page 34