North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from off its east coast on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, pulling Japan’s new prime minister off the campaign trail and overshadowing the opening of a major arms fair in Seoul.The launch, reported by officials in South Korea and Japan, came after U.S. and South Korean envoys met in Washington to discuss the nuclear standoff with North Korea on Monday. Spy chiefs from the United States, South Korea, and Japan were reported to be meeting in Seoul on Tuesday as well.

The North Korean launch would be the latest weapons test by the country, which has pressed ahead with military development in the face of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

The missile was launched about 10:17 a.m. local time from the sea in the vicinity of Sinpo, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test firing SLBMs.

It was not immediately clear whether the missile was fired from a submarine or from a submersible test barge, as in most previous tests.

“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for possible additional launches,” JCS said in a statement.The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command condemned the launch as destabilising but assessed that it did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies.

The missile flew about 430-450 kilometres to a maximum altitude of 60 kilometres, a military source said.

North Korea’s last SLBM test was in October 2019, when a Pukguksong-3 missile was fired from an underwater platform, flying 450 kilometres to a maximum altitude of 910 kilometres.

Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who is a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute in Seoul, said the latest test likely involved one of the SLBMs recently unveiled by North Korea.

The North displayed new Pukguksong-4 and Pukguksong-5 SLBMs during its military parades in October and January, respectively, and a previously unseen, smaller missile was spotted at last week’s defence fair in Pyongyang.

North Korea has also been working on what would be its first operational submarine capable of launching an SLBM, according to South Korean officials. It currently has an experimental ballistic missile submarine it claims was used in a 2016 test, though some analysts say that may have used a barge.

The Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative has assessed that “an operational (ballistic missile submarine) and SLBM capability could provide North Korea with additional options for nuclear launch, and a hedge against destruction of its land-based nuclear systems.” Read More

By Ian Dei

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