|A new type of tactical guided missile is launched from the North Korean town of Hamju, South Hamgyong Province, March 25. Korea Times file|
South Korea successfully test-launches SLBM
By Kang Seung-woo
North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea, Wednesday, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
Pyongyang watchers said given that the test-firings ― seen as a protest against a recent combined military drill between South Korea and the United States among others ― were carried out during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit to Seoul, they were a highly calculated move designed to get Beijing to urge the United States and South Korea to stop what the North calls "hostile" annual military exercises.
The totalitarian state is banned from testing any ballistic missile technology under a set of U.N. resolutions.
The missile launches, the first of their kind since March 25 when Pyongyang tested a new type of tactical guided missile, also came two days after the reclusive state announced that it had successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend.
"The missiles were fired from central inland areas of the North on Wednesday afternoon, and the South Korean and the U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing details for additional information," the JCS said in a statement.
"Our military maintains a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the U.S."
The JCS announced later that the missiles traveled 800 kilometers at an altitude of 60 kilometers. .
In response, President Moon Jae-in convened a National Security Council meeting where he was briefed on the launches; while Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga denounced them as outrageous, strongly condemning the tests for threatening peace and security in the region.
Diplomatic observers believe the missile launches were mainly intended to fulfill the North's warning against the joint military exercises held by Seoul and Washington, in August, given that the country had ratcheted up tensions.
In August, Kim Yong-chol, head of the United Front Department handling inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement warning that the North will make the South and the U.S. regret their decision to hold the joint drills as they would face a "serious security crisis" due to the "wrong choice."
"More analysis is needed, but given that North Korea fired short-range ballistic missiles, this would not cross the U.S. red line and could be seen as mounting a protest against the combined exercises," said Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
"In addition, it may have been intended to urge the U.S. to concede more for their nuclear negotiations."
The fact that the missile launches coincided with the Chinese foreign minister's trip to South Korea also carries extra weight.
"As the military provocation could pave the way for the Chinese foreign minister to represent North Korea's position on halting the joint exercises and removing challenges against the country, this may have affected the North Korean regime's decision on the timing of the missile firings," Hong said.
He added that as China may be uncomfortable with the launches, North Korea may have opted for short-range missile tests.
China, along with Russia, has urged South Korea and the U.S. to suspend their combined military drills and ease international sanctions on North Korea, which have heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Meanwhile, South Korea successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) to become the world's seventh country to have actual combat operational capability for the weapon, according to the defense ministry, Wednesday.
The Agency for Defense Development (ADD) carried out the launch at a naval weapons test site off Anheung, South Chungcheong Province, with President Moon and Defense Minister Suh Wook observing it. The missile was launched from the ROKN Dosan Ahn Chang-ho, the nation's first 3,000-ton submarine equipped with six vertical launch tubes, which was commissioned last month.
"Possession of SLBMs has significant meaning in securing deterrence against omnidirectional threats and is expected to play a key role in self-reliance in national defense and the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula in the future," Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement at the time.
Ahead of the launch, the ADD carried out several ground and water tank based tests, including SLBM ejection, according to the defense ministry.
The ministry said six countries ― the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and India ― had SLBM capability. North Korea, which has showcased several types of alleged SLBMs, was excluded from this list.
Unlike conventional land-based missiles, SLBMs are harder to detect as they are launched underwater, enabling a surprise strike, thus seeing them labeled as "game changers."
Along with the SLBM test, the ADD also successfully conducted separation of a long-range air-to-ground missile from a KF-21 next-generation fighter jet, which the country is developing using its own technology. It has also developed a supersonic cruise missile and a high-powered ballistic missile a with significantly increased warhead.