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North Korea boosts surprise attack ability with wider range of missiles

  • October 21, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 1:00 a.m.
  • English Press

YOSUKE ONCHI, Nikkei staff writers


SEOUL — The spate of ballistic missile tests conducted by North Korea in recent weeks demonstrates that the regime is building up capabilities to stage surprise attacks on targets in the region.


The test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile Tuesday followed last month’s launch of missiles that can shift their trajectories and what North Korea said was a new hypersonic missile.


The common thread linking these recent firings is North Korea’s escalating capability to mount offensives that can overwhelm defenses.


“The simultaneous launch of multiple missiles using varying methods would present a threat,” said a person close to the national security community in Seoul.


Military experts have determined that Tuesday’s submarine-launched ballistic missile closely resembles a short-range missile dubbed the “North Korean Iskander” because of its similarities to a Russian-made missile system. The weapon adopts a sharp pullup movement when making its descent, making it hard to intercept.


The missile has a range of about 600 km to 700 km, which puts U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan within reach.


The submarine used to stage Tuesday’s missile test appears to be the same Gorae-class vessel that launched a submarine-launched ballistic missile in August 2016. The submarine, based on old Soviet technology, is believed to have a submerged displacement of about 1,500 tons and one launch tube.


North Korea’s state-owned Korea Central News Agency claimed in a piece Wednesday that the submarine-launched ballistic missile would “greatly contribute” to “enhancing the underwater operational capability of our navy” but it is not suited for long-distance military operations.


Recently North Korea has been busy developing a variety of missiles. On Sept. 15, the regime test-fired short-range irregular-trajectory missiles using a freight train as a staging platform. On Sept. 28, North Korea conducted a test of what it claimed to be a hypersonic missile capable of exceeding Mach 5 speeds.


Submarine-launched ballistic missiles fired from hidden submarines demonstrate a country’s ability to respond to an enemy’s nuclear attack. The weapons act as a deterrent against a hostile country striking first.


North Korea says the recent missile firings tie back to its five-year plan to develop its weapons system unveiled during January’s ruling party congress. Pyongyang claims the missile development is justified by South Korea’s military buildup. It appears the regime will continue with the tests.


On Tuesday, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim held a meeting in Washington with Funakoshi Takehiro, Director General of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and with Noh Kyu-duk, South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs. Both the U.S. and Japan condemned the most recent missile launch. South Korea said it shared concerns about the incident.


The U.N. Security Council will hold a closed-door meeting Wednesday. The council met after the launch of the purported hypersonic missile, but the body did not issue a joint statement representing all members.

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