North Korea launched two “strategic cruise missiles” from a submarine off its east coast over the weekend, according to the country’s state media on Monday.
According to Yonhap News Agency, the North’s first known fire of cruise missiles from a submarine is largely considered as an apparent show of force against a major South Korea-US combined military exercise.
According to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, the missiles were launched from the 8.24 Yongung in waters around Kyongpho Bay in the East Sea during an underwater launching rehearsal staged at daybreak on Sunday (KCNA).
The drill confirmed the reliability of the weapon system and examined the underwater-to-surface offensive operations of submarine units that constitute one of other major forces of the DPRK nuclear deterrent,” the KCNA said in a report, using the acronym of the North’s official name.
After “travelling the 1,500 km-long eight-shaped flight circles for 7,563 to 7,575 seconds,” the missiles precisely targeted pre-programmed targets in the East Sea.
The latest launch occurred on the day of the start of the partners’ 11-day Freedom Shield exercise, which the North refers to be “preparations for an aggressive war” against it.
North Korea said its latest underwater launching drill “confirmed the current functioning posture of the nuclear war deterrence measures in different regions”.
Earlier in the day, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected an unidentified missile launched from a submarine on Sunday morning in waters off the North’s eastern coastline city of Sinpo.
It did not immediately disclose any additional information.
Following the KCNA report on the launch, a JCS official stated that there is a “difference” between the North’s claim regarding the missile’s specifications and the South’s and US’s analyses.
He did not expand, but his remarks suggest that the Pentagon believes the reclusive North inflated the outcomes of its most recent cruise missile tests.
He described the North’s missile launch as a “early-stage” test, implying that the missile has not yet been deployed, while speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity.
Cruise missiles fly low and move, which allows them to avoid missile defences. Last month, the North said it launched four “Hwasal-2 strategic cruise missiles” in a rehearsal to boost its nuclear reprisal capacity.
Military experts believe the North has increased the striking capacity of its submarine.
If confirmed, a North Korean cruise missile with a 1,500 km operating range could reach all of South Korea as well as US military locations in Japan.
According to the analysts, the North’s push for the submarine-based launch platform underscores its continued efforts to diversify nuclear delivery vehicles and improve their wartime survivability.
The North is widely expected to undertake additional weapon tests in response to the partners’ military drills, threatening “unprecedentedly strong” and “overwhelming” counteractions to what it calls the US hostile strategy.
According to the KCNA, at a key party conference presided over by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Saturday, the North decided to adopt “important, realistic” measures for the “offensive use” of war deterrents.