The maligned, rogue state of North Korea has once again failed in its efforts to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine according to intelligence sources.
North Korea’s Saturday test is not the first nor will it be the last
Pyongyang has once again shown the world that it is hell-bent on expanding its missile program. South Korea’s intelligence services along with its western counterparts are calling the launch a failure, but it’s largely believed that the North Koreans are making progress nonetheless. South Korean officials, despite this setback, believe that it’s a mere matter of five years before North Korea will be able to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine.
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Clearly, the development of the program is a concern to all parties in the region and to a lesser extent, or not, the United States. While a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead is quite scary, most experts agree that there is little chance that North Korea could sail terrifically close to the United States’ coast to launch a strike against, say, Seattle.
The test took place around 2 p.m. local time near the eastern port city of Wonson according to officials from the South Korean National Intelligence Service. That information was conveyed by the intelligence service in a closed-door briefing today to South Korean lawmakers according to an assistant to Joo Ho-young, head of the parliamentary intelligence committee.
North Korea has yet to make any official announcement of the flight which is hardly surprising if it indeed was a failure. However, North Korea did declare the area where the test is believed to have occurred a no-fly/no-sail zone from early November until December 7.
Numerous news sources are suggesting that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un likely attended the test as state media reported on Friday that the crazy bastard had visited a factory in Wonson last week. It is, however, clear that his best friend Dennis Rodman was not in attendance.
Prior “submarine” launches from North Korea
North Korean state media photographs from May show Kim Jong Un watching what North Korea called a a successful test of a missile launched from a submarine. Successful being fairly relative as the “world-level strategic weapon” that Mr. Kim called it, only reached an altitude of 150 meters prior to crashing back to the sea.
And that’s not the half of this “success.”
During the May 2015 ejection test of its KN-11/Bukkeukseong-1 (“Polaris-1”) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the video of the launch was so poorly produced that experts quickly pointed out that you could see that the missile was launched not from a submarine but by a submerged barge.
Sanctions put in place by the United Nations effectively bar North Korea from any ballistic missile testing but North Korea has repeatedly flaunted the sanctions from the toothless UN sanctions. A number of these land-based ballistic missile tests have essentially landed in Japan’s backyard.
The United States and South Korea have discussed in some detail how they might be forced to target North Korean missile bases. It’s with this understanding that North Korea has looked for more mobile solutions to its strategic military goals including road-mobile launchers in addition to submarines. While both countries are aware of the mobile launchers, North Korea has yet to test them.
Joseph Bermudez, an expert in North Korean military issues, wrote on the North Korea-focused website 38 North in October that a new type of submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles was docked near where Saturday’s test occurred. The bulk of North Korea’s submarine fleet is comprised of roughly 70 Golf-class submarines from the Soviet era that would not be able to launch ballistic missiles without serious refitting that would likely take more time than simply building a new fleet.
More reaction from South Korea on Saturday’s test
“There is no evidence of the missile taking flight, and only debris from its cover was found, so it is highly likely that the launch was a failure,” a government official told The Korean Times.
“North Korea has spent a long time developing the SLBM, but the misfire shows it still has a long way to go,” the official said. “It needs a considerable amount of time to perfect a missile.”
But this doesn’t mean that North Korea is not progressing in its aims and that won’t make anyone in the neighborhood feel terrifically comfortable. Whether or not the United States will ever strike a nuclear North Korea is anyone’s guess but it’s difficult to see the United States allowing a nuclear weapon to join North Korea’s navy.