N. Korea fires suspected SLBM ahead of nuclear talks with U.S.

By Lim Chang-won Posted : October 2, 2019, 13:57 Updated : October 2, 2019, 14:02

A picture released by Pyongyang's state media on July 23 showed leader Kim Jong-un inspecting a new submarine. [KCNA / Yonhap Photo]

SEOUL -- North Korea fired what is believed to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile, prompting South Korea to express strong concern and grasp Pyongyang's intentions over the launch which came days ahead of the planned resumption of stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

Military radars detected a ballistic missile that appeared to have been launched in waters about 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) northeast of Wonsan, a port city on the east coast, South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said Wednesday at a parliamentary inspection of defense affairs. He said the missile flew some 450 km at a maximum altitude of 910 km.

"There is the possibility of an SLBM because it was probably launched from the sea," Jeong said. "We are carrying out analysis based on the belief that its specifications are similar" to Pukguksong, a North Korean SLBM tested in 2016 and 2017. North Korea's submarine base in Sinpo is located about 120 km northeast of Wonsan.

The missile may have been fired at a reduced distance, Jeong said, putting the estimated range of Pukguksong at 1,300 km. The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the ballistic missile was fired eastward at 7:11 a.m. (2211 GMT).

After an emergency standing committee meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), the South's presidential office said in a statement that standing committee members expressed "strong concerns" over the North's missile test ahead of U.S.-North Korea negotiations on Saturday.

Washington and Pyongyang agreed to hold preliminary contact on October 4 and working-level negotiations the following day. The venue was not disclosed. There have been no nuclear negotiations since talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam in February broke down without an agreement.

At Sinpo, a port city in central South Hamgyong province, North Korea has a shipyard for its Sinpo-class submarine. In August 2016, the North claimed to have successfully tested an SLBM called "Pukguksong-1 (KN-11)" from its experimental 2,500-ton Sinpo (Gorae)-class submarine, saying it is now fully capable of launching a nuclear attack.

Pyongyang's state media released pictures on July 23 that showed Kim inspecting a new submarine at an unspecified location. South Korea's defense ministry said that North Korea appears to be building a new submarine capable of carrying three submarine-launched ballistic missiles by upgrading the Sinpo-class submarine.

U.S. experts believe the actual use of North Korea's ballistic missile submarine takes time after acceptance trials and a shake-down cruise for more than a year, even though Pyongyang claimed its operational deployment is "near at hand."

At an inter-Korean summit in September last year, Kim said he would permanently dismantle facilities for long-range ballistic missile launches and engine testing in the Sohae space center in the presence of international inspectors. Sohae has played an important role in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies have focused on ICBMs and other strategic weapons.
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