North Korea has released a series of photos purportedly showing a missile launched from a submarine, but U.S. military figures claim they are fake.
A senior U.S. Navy admiral claims that the photos were edited by North Korea’s state propaganda machine, and the nation may not develop the technology for years to come. On May 9 North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), in defiance of international sanctions imposed due to its missile and nuclear tests, writes James Pearson for Business Insider.
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Photos appear to have been faked
The test apparently involved the underwater firing of a missile, which would provide evidence of Pyongyang’s progress towards building submarines equipped with missiles, assuming that the photos were real. However Admiral James Winnefeld, speaking at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, claimed that North Korea was still “many years” from developing the technology.
Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, aerospace engineers at Schmucker Technologie, carried out their own analysis of the photos and supported Winnefeld’s conclusion. The German engineers stated that the photos were “strongly modified,” and reflections of the missile exhaust flame in the water was not properly aligned with the missile itself.
This is not the first time that North Korea has faked proof of advances in its missile programs. Schiller and Schmucker referred to badly built fake missiles seen at military parades in 2012 and 2013.
“Considering the track record of North Korean deceptions, it seems sensible to assume that any North Korean SLBM capability is still a very long time in the future, if it will ever surface,” Schiller and Schmucker said.
The duo concluded that the missile was most probably launched from a submerged barge rather than from a submarine, a conclusion that was also reached by analysts from 38north.org and armscontrolwonk.com.
South Korea claims the photos are real
North Korean state television showed a photo of a missile leaving a trail of white smoke in its wake, but other photos on state media did not show any white smoke. Schiller and Schmucker state that the photos could have been of two different missiles with distinct propulsion systems.
“They have not gotten as far as their clever video editors and spinmeisters would have us believe,” Winnefeld said. However South Korean military officials claimed that the photos appeared to be genuine.
“We haven’t changed our stance that the rocket was fired from a submarine and flew about 150 meters out of the water,” said a South Korean military official, in reference to Winnefeld’s conclusion. “As we have previously said, the photos don’t appear to have been manipulated.”
North Korean belligerence continues
Pyongyang regularly threatens the U.S., and this week was no different. North Korea is currently under heavy international sanctions, but again it warned Washington not to interfere with its plans to develop nuclear missiles.
Officials took the opportunity to boast of North Korea’s progress in miniaturizing nuclear warheads, which is a real worry for regional security. Although Pyongyang has previously claimed to have miniaturized warheads, its ability to do so has never been verified.
Once again North Korea has repeated those claims, stating that it now possesses nuclear warheads which are small enough to be fitted on a missile. A statement from a defense official said that North Korea’s nuclear program had “long been in the full-fledged state of miniaturization.”
Although the general consensus among analysts is that the program is advancing, the lack of information makes it difficult to say quite how much progress is being made.
Ban Ki-moon visit cancelled
North Korea made the claim just hours after it cancelled a scheduled visit from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. His planned visit to an industrial complex in the Kaesong economic zone would have been the first by a UN chief in over 20 years. Ban called the decision to cancel his visit “deeply regrettable,” and stated that North Korea had not explained its reasons for calling it off.
Given the lack of verifiable information, experts are left to speculate as to quite how far North Korea’s nuclear program has progressed. Dr John Swenson-Wright, head of the Asia programme at the Chatham House think-tank, stated that although there existed “growing evidence of the North’s increasing technical sophistication”, it is important to remain cautious when interpreting the latest proclamation from North Korea.
The belligerent rhetoric and reported executions of officials have been seen in some quarters as an attempt by Kim Jong-un to show his iron grip on power. South Korean officials claim that while Pyongyang has progressed in the miniaturization of warheads, the process is not complete. “South Korea and the US share the assessment that it is not at a stage where it has completed the related technology,” the official said.