North apparently fails to launch SLBM in air

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North apparently fails to launch SLBM in air

North Korea appeared to have failed a test-launch of a missile from a submarine on Saturday in the East Sea, according to a government source.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue, said that the military had detected signs that the North had test-fired of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in the East Sea on Saturday but that it had failed to reach the air from under water.

“SLBMs are launched underwater and emerge above the sea after it breaks away from the capsule that covers it. But this time, only the debris of that capsule was seen on the ocean’s surface, without the missile body soaring into the air,” the official said.

The report comes six months after Pyongyang boasted that its leader, Kim Jong-un, had overseen the successful test-launch of a missile from under water in May. On the May launch, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said the test “verified and confirmed that the underwater ballistic missile launch from a strategic submarine fully achieved the latest military, scientific and technical requirements.”

Pyongyang had not made mention of the launch as of Sunday and is likely to stay silent with the test-fire apparently failing.

It is possible, however, that the drill never intended for the rocket to penetrate the ocean’s surface and that North Korea was instead merely focusing on how the capsule functioned.

Another source who specializes in North Korean weaponry said that Pyongyang could have been carrying out assessments mainly “related to the functioning of the capsule, without using a missile body.”

The North’s test-fire of an SLBM in May caused South Korea to heighten its defense posture. The origin of a missile launched from under water is much harder to detect than those launched on land. A submarine capable of launching a ballistic missile is a security nightmare for Seoul as well as Washington and Tokyo, although military experts say the North’s program is still in its early stages.

Pyongyang’s pursuit of SLBM programs is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, which bans the North from developing ballistic missile technology of any kind.

BY HYUN IL-HOON, KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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