The moment Kim Jong-un’s North Korean navy test-fired a newly developed submarine-launched ballistic missile which landed in the ocean off its east coast has been pictured for the first time.
North Korean state media confirmed the launch and said the device, which was launched on Tuesday, had ‘lots of advanced control guidance technologies’.
Pictures released by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) showed the black and white missile emerging from calm waters trailing a column of fire and smoke, and a surfacing submarine.
The launch was made from the same submarine that North Korea used to conduct its first submarine-launched strategic missile test in 2016.
A proven submarine-based missile capability would take the North’s arsenal to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a second-strike capability in the event of an attack on its military bases.
But the use of the same ‘8.24 Yongung’ submarine as it tested five years ago indicates that it may only have made limited progress in its launch capabilities.
While North Korea has a large fleet of aging submarines, it is yet to deploy operational ballistic missile submarines beyond the experimental Gorae-class boat used in the tests.
It was ‘a bit of flex to launch a new, previously untested missile from a submarine for the first test,’ said Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment.
The statement from state media came a day after South Korea’s military reported that it believed North Korea had fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
The launch took place at 10.17 am local time near Sinpo, North Korea’s main submarine-building shipyard, Sourth
The missile travelled around 365 miles at a maximum altitude of 40 miles before crashing down in the East sea, an informed South Korean source said.
The test comes just days after it was revealed that China had tested a new orbital vehicle – thought by analysts to be a hypersonic nuke. Beijing denies this, saying it was actually a civilian spacecraft.
North Korea confirmed it test-fired a newly developed submarine-launched ballistic missile which landed in the ocean off its east coast, as the nuclear-armed country pursues ever more improved weapons
North Korean state media said the device, which was launched on Tuesday, had ‘lots of advanced control guidance technologies’
Pictures released by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) showed the black and white missile emerging from calm waters trailing a column of fire and smoke, and a surfacing submarine
A map showing North Korea’s main nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri, which was decommissioned in 2019, and its main site for producing nuclear fuel at Yongbyon. The red dots show missile testing sites, including the site of today’s launch at Sinpo (right)
Analysts believe the Chinese could have been testing a new version of old Soviet nuclear technology called FOBS, which is designed to evade missile detection and defence systems.
Meanwhile South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said: ‘Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for possible additional launches.’
Ending a months long lull in September, North Korea has been ramping up its weapons tests while making conditional peace offers to Seoul, reviving a pattern of pressuring South Korea to try to get what it wants from the United States.
Tuesday’s test from the ‘8.24 Yongung’ submarine came as both Koreas build up their weapons capabilities in what could become an arms race on the peninsula, and with Washington-Pyongyang dialogue at a standstill.
The submarine, an experimental vessel, ‘appears capable of firing a single ballistic missile’ and has to surface every few days, limiting its operational usefulness, according to a 2018 analysis by the US-based Nuclear Threat Initiative think tank.
North Korea last tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile in October 2019, but the Pentagon and analysts say it is likely to have been fired from a submerged platform.
The KCNA said the latest test ‘will greatly contribute to putting the defense technology of the country on a high level and to enhancing the underwater operational capability of our navy.’
It said the new missile has introduced advanced control guidance technologies including flank mobility and gliding skip mobility.
Photos released by KCNA appeared to show a thinner, smaller missile than North Korea’s earlier submarine-launched ballistic missile designs, and may be a previously unseen model first showcased at a defence exhibition in Pyongyang last week.
A new submarine-launched ballistic missile is seen during a test by North Korea
Photos released by KCNA appeared to show a thinner, smaller missile than North Korea’s earlier submarine-launched ballistic missile designs, and may be a previously unseen model first showcased at a defence exhibition in Pyongyang last week
A smaller submarine-launched ballistic missile could mean more missiles stored on a single submarine, although with a shorter range, potentially putting nuclear-armed North Korea closer to fielding an operational ballistic missile submarine (SSB).
‘Though a smaller North Korea SLBM design could enable more missiles per boat, it could also enable smaller less challenging SSB designs, including easier integration/conversion on pre-existing submarines,’ Joseph Dempsey, a defence researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said on Twitter.
Still, the development was expected to have only a limited impact on Pyongyang’s arsenal until it made more progress on a larger submarine that has been seen under construction.
‘It just means they’re trying to diversify their submarine launch options,’ said Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California.
‘It’s an interesting development but with only one submarine in the water that can launch notionally one or two of these it doesn’t change much.’
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was not reported to have attended Tuesday’s test.
Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo condemned the launch, with all three describing it as a ballistic missile.
Kim Jong Un has vowed to keep developing missile in defiance of international sanctions, and showed off his growing stockpile at a recent weapons show (pictured)
Acquiring submarine-launched missiles would be a worrying development because that would make it harder for the North’s rivals to detect launches and provide the country with retaliatory attack capability.
Still, experts say it would take years, large amounts of resources and major technological improvements for the heavily sanctioned nation to build at least several submarines that could travel quietly in seas and reliably execute strikes.
Tuesday’s launch is the most high-profile weapons test by North Korea since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January.
The White House stressed that the action was a threat which only underscored the ‘urgent’ need for dialogue with Pyongyang, with spokeswoman Jen Psaki telling a press briefing: ‘Our offer remains to meet anywhere, anytime, without preconditions.’
Within days, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, is scheduled to hold talks with U.S. allies in Seoul over the prospects of reviving talks with North Korea.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than two years over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s denuclearization steps.
His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offers to restart dialogue without preconditions, saying that Washington must first abandon its ‘hostile policy,’ a term the North mainly uses to refer to sanctions and U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
South Korean artillery pieces are pictured close to the ‘demilitarized zone’ that separates North from South today
South Korean mobile artillery pieces were seen on routine manoeuvres near the border with North Korea as the test took place
South Korean soldiers prepare to take part in artillery manoeuvres near the border with North Korea on Tuesday morning
A report from the Financial Times, which cited five unnamed intelligence sources, said the Chinese military launched the Long March rocket in August carrying a ‘hypersonic glide vehicle’ into low orbit. It circled the globe before descending towards its target, which it missed by about two dozen miles. The system would be able to overcome US anti-ballistic missile defence systems that are based in Alaska and set up to shoot down projectiles coming over the North Pole – the Chinese system would be able to strike the US from the south
But while North Korea is apparently trying to use South Korea’s desire for inter-Korean engagement to extract concessions from Washington, analysts say Seoul has little wiggle room as the Biden administration is intent on keeping sanctions in place until the North makes concrete steps toward denuclearization.
‘The US continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue,’ Sung Kim told reporters on Monday, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
‘Our intent remains the same. We harbor no hostile intent toward the DPRK and we are open to meeting without preconditions.’
‘Even as we remain open to dialogue, we also have a responsibility to implement the U.N. Security Council resolutions addressing the DPRK,’ he said.
Last week, Kim Jong Un reviewed powerful missiles designed to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S. mainland during a military exhibition and vowed to build an ‘invincible’ military to cope with what he called persistent U.S. hostility.
Earlier, Kim dismissed U.S. offers for resuming talks without preconditions as ‘cunning’ attempt to conceal its hostile policy on the North.
The country has tested various weapons over the past month, including a new cruise missile that could potentially carry nuclear warheads, a rail-launched ballistic system, a developmental hypersonic missile and a new anti-aircraft missile.
But the North in recent weeks have also restored communication lines with the South and said it could take further steps to improve bilateral relations if Seoul abandons its ‘double-dealing attitude’ and ‘hostile viewpoint.’
North Korea is banned from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles under Security Council resolutions, and is subject to multiple sets of sanctions as a result.
It says it needs its arsenal to defend against possible US invasion.
Tuesday’s launch came after North Korea – which invaded its neighbour in 1950 – in recent weeks tested a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched weapon and what it said was a hypersonic warhead, sparking global concern.
For its part, South Korea last month tested its first SLBM, which put it among the elite group of nations that have demonstrated proven technology, and also unveiled a supersonic cruise missile.
Pyongyang this month also mounted a rare weapons exhibition, showcasing the gigantic intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) revealed last year.
Opening the display, leader Kim – who has overseen rapid progress in the North’s military technology – blamed Washington for tensions, dismissing US assertions that it does not have hostile intentions.
Kim met three times with former US president Donald Trump, who boasted of stopping a war but failed to reach agreement on ending North Korea’s nuclear program.
Talks essentially stalled after a Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi collapsed in 2019.
China was also revealed to have tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile which orbited the globe before returning to Earth to strike its target in a technological development that would overcome US anti-ballistic missile systems.
Weapons race: A comparison of the most advanced (columns from left) missiles, aircraft carriers, tanks and aircraft possessed by China, the US and Russia
A report from the Financial Times, which cited five unnamed intelligence sources, said the Chinese military launched the Long March rocket in August carrying a ‘hypersonic glide vehicle’ into low orbit.
It circled the globe before descending towards its target, which it missed by about two dozen miles.
A Chinese government spokesman refuted those claims Monday night, claiming that the missile was in fact an experimental rocket designed to offer a peaceful means of space exploration.
The hypersonic missiles can reach speeds of up to 21,000mph and can strike anywhere on Earth from space within minutes.
The system would be able to overcome US anti-ballistic missile defense systems that are based in Alaska and set up to shoot down projectiles coming over the North Pole – the Chinese system would be able to strike the US from the south.
The incident has left US intelligence officials stunned, sources say, as it shows ‘China has made astonishing progress on the development of its hypersonic weapons’.
‘We have no idea how they did this,’ a person familiar with the test told the FT.
China has since denied these reports with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian claiming it was ‘a spacecraft, not a missile.’
‘This test was a routine spacecraft experiment to verify the reusable technology of spacecraft, which is of great significance for reducing the cost of spacecraft use,’ Zhao said at a press briefing, according to CNN.
‘It can provide a convenient and cheap way for humans to use space peacefully.
‘Many companies in the world have carried out similar experiments.’