N. Korea announces successful launch of new “Pukguksong-3” SLBM

Posted on : 2019-10-04 17:30 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Observers view launch as strongarm tactic to pressure US to form “new calculation method”  
North Korea test launches a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)
North Korea test launches a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)

North Korea announced the successful test launch of its new “Pukguksong-3” submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report on Oct. 3. Leader Kim Jong-un does not appear to have been present at the scene of the launch. Analysts saw the launch as a strongarm tactic to pressure the US into adopting a “new calculation method” ahead of the resumption of bilateral negotiations on denuclearization, while also pitching it in such a way that it did not result in the talks falling through.

In a piece that day titled “Historic Strengthening of Independent Defense Capabilities,” the KCNA wrote, “The Academy of Defence Science of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea succeeded in test-firing the new-type SLBM Pukguksong-3 in the waters off Wonsan Bay of the East Sea of Korea on Wednesday morning [Oct. 2].”

Regarding Kim’s presence, the report merely said that he had “sent warm congratulations on behalf of the Central Committee of the WPK to the national defence scientific research units involved in the test-firing.” Kim was not seen in any of the photographs of the launch scene published on the KCNA website that day.

Kim’s absence seen as reflecting seriousness of threat posed by launch

Kim’s absence was seen as reflecting the seriousness of the threat posed by the Pukguksong-3. With an estimated range of over 2,000km, the missile could pose a direct threat to the US if actually combined with a submarine as a covert means of delivery. By avoiding being at the scene while the pressure against the US was being escalated toward the red line, Kim appeared to be attempting the control the potential impact for imminent negotiations with the US. Kim has been present for all 10 of the new tactical weapon test launches conducted since last May.

In its report, the KCNA said, “The test-firing scientifically and technically confirmed the key tactical and technical indexes of the newly-designed ballistic missile and had no adverse impact on the security of neighboring countries.” It emphasized that the launch fell within the scope of self-defense rights – a message also seen as attempting to moderate the perceived threat. The reduction of the missile’s range by conducting the test at a high angle was also consistent with this.

“The successful new-type SLBM test-firing comes to be of great significance as it ushered in a new phase in containing the outside forces' threat to the DPRK and further bolstering its military muscle for self-defence,” the piece said.

But with the launch coming 13 days after North Korea announced the schedule for bilateral negotiations with the US, some analysts said it reaffirmed its intent to continue advancing its defensive military capabilities while the talks are going on. Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University, said, “North Korea is asking the US the question of whether it is okay for it to continue modernizing its weapons.”

“They’re saying that Kim Jong-un will be obliged to be there when submarine test launches happen in the future,” Kim said.

The KCNA also published several photographs of the Pukguksong-3 launch. In the images, a cylindrical missile with a blunt head can be seen rising over the surface of the water. A ship is also seen floating close to the site of the missile launch. The vessel in question is believed to be a towing ship used to transport a barge with an underwater launch platform.

“North Korea appears to have tested the ejection capacity of its underwater launch platform ahead of the SLBM test launch,” a South Korean military official said.

By Yoo Kang-moon, senior staff writer

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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