North Korea testfired a medium-range missile from an undersea platform — its 11th missile test in 2019, and its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test since August 2016.

The missile was fired from a point in the Sea of Japan, 17 km northeast of the North Korean naval base of Wonsan in early morning. The missile, launched from either a submarine or an offshore rig, landed in the waters of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

As it has done earlier too, North Korea fired the missile in a very steep trajectory; had the launch followed a more standard trajectory, it could have travelled 1,900 km, standard for a medium-range missile. Such a missile would reach South Korea and Japan easily, especially if it were launched from a submarine with a significant range. North Korea’s 1990s vintage Romeo-class submarines are thought to be able to travel 7,000 km, or about the distance to the United States territory of Hawaii. A saving grace, from the perspective of the West, is that these diesel-electric powered machines are extremely noisy, and can probably be detected.

Commentators have underlined the apparent range and capabilities of the missile, and the fact that it demonstrates continuing progress on Pyongyang’s SLBM programme. It is difficult to anticipate the time and place of a submarine-borne strike, and SLBMs are seen as extending crucial second-strike capabilities to militaries faced with a nuclear attack. However, it is not certain that North Korea’s submarine programme is very advanced as yet.

The missile test came days ahead of the planned resumption of nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States. Negotiators from the two sides are scheduled to meet on Saturday — and several analysts said Wednesday that Pyongyang was trying to raise the stakes and send out the signal that it will return to the table on its own terms, and expected Washington to back off from its demands for full denuclearisation.

Source: The Indian Express