North Korea test-fired two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine on Sunday, as reported by the state news agency KCNA. The launch coincided with the scheduled start of US-South Korea military drills on Monday. The term “strategic” typically denotes weapons that have a nuclear capability, and KCNA stated that the launch confirmed the reliability of the system while testing the submarine units’ underwater offensive operations that form a part of North Korea’s nuclear deterrent. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) expressed high alert and reported that the country’s intelligence agency was working alongside its US counterpart to analyze the launch’s specifics. The joint drills between South Korea and the US, called “Freedom Shield 23,” were scheduled to begin on Monday and are the most extensive military exercises since 2017.
As per the two militaries, the upcoming drills will reinforce the allies’ combined defensive posture and will include field exercises such as amphibious landings. However, North Korea views the drills as a rehearsal for invasion, and in the past year, it has conducted a record number of missile tests and drills, claiming it’s to enhance its nuclear deterrent and make more weapons fully operational. South Korea’s unification ministry spokesperson, Koo Byoung-sam, expressed regret over North Korea’s use of defensive drills as a pretext for provocation and hoped that it realizes that escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula will be futile.
North Korea’s recent submarine launches aimed to demonstrate its resolve in controlling a situation where the US and South Korean forces increase their anti-DPRK military manoeuvres, according to KCNA. DPRK stands for North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The strategic cruise missiles were fired from the “8.24 Yongung” submarine in the waters off the east coast of Korea early on Sunday and hit a target in the sea after travelling about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles), as reported by KCNA. A spokesperson from JCS stated that North Korea’s claims were not always accurate, but no further details were given.
While North Korea has test-fired strategic cruise missiles from a submarine, it remains unclear whether the country has developed miniaturised nuclear warheads that could fit on such missiles. Analysts believe perfecting smaller warheads would be a key goal if North Korea resumes nuclear testing. Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, stated that the threat posed by North Korean cruise missiles launched from a submarine must be taken seriously, but Pyongyang could be overstating its capabilities. Easley also added that North Korean soldiers are poorly fed and are being ordered to help farmers address the country’s food shortage.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said there was no information that the missile flew toward Japan’s waters or caused any damage.
“If North Korea’s announcement that the missile had a range of more than 1,500 kilometres was true, it would pose threats to the region’s peace and stability – we are concerned,” Matsuno said.
He said US military deterrence in Asia-Pacific is “essential” in the region, adding the North “may step onto further provocative acts such as a nuclear test.”
North Korea has a large submarine fleet but the 8.24 Yongung (August 24th Hero) is its only known experimental ballistic missile submarine. Analysts say it plays a critical role in the development of missiles, submarine technology and operational procedures, as well as hands-on training of new submariners.
North Korea has said it is building an operational ballistic missile submarine.
While overseeing a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) launching exercise on Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the military to intensify drills to deter and respond to a “real war” if necessary.
On Sunday state media reported that Kim led a ruling party meeting to discuss and decide on “important, practical measures” to boost the country’s war deterrence in the midst of stepped-up actions by the United States and South Korea. The report did not provide specifics on the measures.