Satellite Imagery Shows North Korea Moving Forward On Deadly New Ballistic Missile Sub


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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Satellite images of a North Korean shipyard reveal the country is on an “aggressive” schedule to build and deploy an operational ballistic missile submarine, according to a new research report.

North Korea is suspected to be constructing a bigger, better ballistic missile submarine to succeed the Gorae-class experimental ballistic missile submarine, which almost never leaves port, according to earlier reports from The Diplomat. Commercial satellite imagery of the Sinpo South Shipyard reveal an active shipbuilding operation, according to a report from 38 North, a research site run by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The Pentagon has long expressed concerns about North Korea’s sea-based missile ambitions.

“North Korea’s pursuit of a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability also highlights the regime’s commitment to diversifying its missile force, strengthening the missile force’s survivability, and finding new ways to coerce its neighbors,” a 2015 Department of Defense report on North Korea’s military developments explained.

“Throughout 2017 there has been continued movement of parts and components into and out of the two parts yards adjacent to the constructions halls in the center of the shipyard,” 38 North researcher Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. wrote, adding that he has also detected crane movement. “These activities suggest a prolonged and ongoing shipbuilding program,” he explained.

The report identified suspected launch canisters for possible ejection tests, part of the development process for the launch system for a new class of ballistic missile submarines. This past summer, North Korea conducted four ejection tests, verifying the operational effectiveness of the cold-launch system for submarine-launched ballistic missile, such as the North’s Pukguksong-1 (KN-11) SLBM.

North Korea’s last SLBM flight test was in August of last year.

The movement of testing platforms and construction at Sinpo suggests that planning on developing a reliable sea-based deterrent capability in the years ahead, but that goal may still be a long way off as the rogue regime has not yet tested an SLBM aboard an actual submarine, and the North’s ballistic missile submarine lacks the capability to be an operational and survivable combat platform.

Submarines and the ability to launch ballistic missiles at sea offer the North the ability to slip behind enemy defenses in combat.

The North is still working to develop a working land-based nuclear deterrent, a goal the country is much closer to achieving in the wake of this summer’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests and the test of a staged thermonuclear weapon in September.

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