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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile designed to be launched from a submarine on Saturday, the South Korean military said, apparently continuing a provocative streak of demonstrations of fire. weapons that could lead to a nuclear test in the next few weeks or months.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launch took place from waters near the eastern port city of Sinpo, where North Korea has a major submarine-building shipyard, but they did not immediately specify the distance traveled by the missile. It was also unclear whether the launch would have involved an actual submarine or an underwater test platform.
The Japanese Ministry of Defense also confirmed the launch, but did not immediately release flight details.
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The launch was apparently North Korea’s first demonstration of a submarine-fired ballistic system since October last year when it tested a new short-range missile from the 8.24 Yongung – its only submarine. known capable of firing a missile – in what was its first underwater test launch since 2019.
The launch came three days after South Korean and Japanese militaries detected on Wednesday that the North was firing a suspected ballistic missile near its capital, Pyongyang, and three days before the inauguration of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher approach to the North’s nuclear ambitions.
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The latest launch was likely North Korea’s 15th round of missile launches this year, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 that demonstrated potential range to reach the entire continental United States.
Experts say the unusually fast pace of testing activity underscores a desire to force the United States to accept the idea that the North is a nuclear power and remove crippling sanctions. There are also signs that North Korea is restoring tunnels at a nuclear testing ground, where it carried out its sixth and final nuclear test in September 2017, as part of possible preparations for another. explosive test.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un punctuated his missile tests with statements warning that the North could proactively use its nuclear weapons if threatened or provoked, which experts say portends an escalating nuclear doctrine which would create greater concerns for South Korea and Japan.
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Kim made one such statement during an April 25 military parade in Pyongyang where he deployed his ICBMs and what appeared to be a new type of missile designed to be fired from submarines.
North Korea has been pushing hard to acquire the capability to fire nuclear missiles from submarines, which in theory would enhance its deterrence by ensuring survivability to retaliate after absorbing a nuclear attack on land. .
Missile submarines would also add a maritime threat to the North’s growing collection of solid-fuel weapons fired from ground vehicles, which are being developed with the apparent aim of overwhelming Korea’s missile defense systems. South and Japan.
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In recent years, the North has developed and tested a family of missiles named Pukguksong, which are designed to be fired from submarines or ground vehicles. Still, experts say the heavily sanctioned nation would need significantly more time, resources and major technological upgrades to build at least several submarines that could travel the seas quietly and reliably execute strikes.
The South Korean and Japanese militaries said the North Korean missile fired on Wednesday traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles) at a maximum altitude of 800 kilometers (500 miles). North Korean state media has yet to comment on the test.