Sofia Persio, Newsweek
1 August 2017
North Korea is developing technology to launch missiles from sea, with the country's submarine activities reaching what the U.S. military has described as “highly unusual and unprecedented levels.”
The escalation in North Korea's naval activity comes days after Pyongyang test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the second time in a month on Friday.
To launch a missile from a submarine, high pressure steam is used to propel the rocket out of the launch canister into the air before the engines ignite. Ths is done to avoid damaging the vessels, a procedure known as a “cold-launch system”.
The ejection test was carried out on land at the Sinpo Naval Shipyard on Sunday, where a submarine base is located, a U.S. defense official told CNN. It is the third test of this kind in a month, and the fourth since the beginning of the year.
While North Korea’s nuclear development program on land has progressed more rapidly than expected, with U.S. intelligence now expecting Pyongyang to launch a “reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM” in 2018, the pariah state's submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capabilities are much more limited, with U.S. intelligence agencies believing Pyongyang's submarine missile program is in its early stages.
According to The Military Balance report, an annual assessment of global military capabilities, conducted by the Institute for International Studies, North Korea is in possession of 72 submarines. Although most of these are old and unable to fire a missile, Pyongyang successfully tested its first SLBM in August 2016, which flew about 310 miles towards Japan.
The development of SLBMs is one of the traditional components of the so-called “Strategic Triad”, a nuclear deterrence strategy involving land, air and sea-based attack capabilities. Pyongyang’s latest ICBM test on Friday shows the ability to hit American mainland, but the end goal is not to actually launch a nuclear attack as much as to deter one and acquire international leverage, U.S. officials told Reuters.
The top U.S. commander in South Korea, General Vincent K. Brooks of United States Forces Korea, echoed this sentiment in a speech last week. “Kim Jong Un is seeking the development of a credible nuclear capability to deter—to deter—what North Korea perceives to be hostility against it,” he said.”