It is not a far-fetched thought as many might think that North Korea ‘s fully submersible submarines firing a nuclear ballistic missile. Pyongyang has shown a willingness to use its submarines for offensive military actions and made major advances in weapons in recent years.
As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons ambitions show no signs of slowing, the submarine threat adds to growing fears in the region. And as a U.S. carrier strike force led by the USS Carl Vinson sailed toward the Korean Peninsula, the fears have been enhanced.
The deployment of the American carrier task force to the volatile region has been decried by North Korea. “If the U.S. dares opt for a military action … the DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Monday.
Although only a handful today are believed to be capable of firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles or so-called SLBMs, experts believe North Korea’s navy has around 70 submarines in its fleet. Pyongyang has the capability today of building a nuclear warhead small enough to arm a submarine missile, defense analysts also believe.
“The problem with the SLBM is that it exposes South Korea’s flanks to attack,” said Bruce Klingner, an Asia and national security specialist at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank.
Focused on identifying missile threats from the North is the THAAD anti-missile system deployed last month by the U.S. in South Korea, explained Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea. And hence it is possible that radars and defense systems might not detect a submarine missile from the North Korean navy.
Similarly, by launching from behind radar, detection from Japan’s Patriot anti-missile system might be averted by missiles fired by North Korean submarines off the east coast of Japan.
drills on destroying the North’s submarines were included in the joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
By maintaining that the North’s vessels are “old and noisy”, some people have been dismissive of the Pyongyang submarine threat, Klingner said. The noise comes from the submarine’s diesel-powered engines.
Yet a sudden disappearance of around 50 of the North’s submarines was reported by South Korean defense officials in 2015.
“We didn’t know where they were at the time,” said Klingner. “One would hope that we would keep very close tabs on those that could launch the SLBM.”
Its submarine program has helped advances in North Korea’s land-based weapons development.
Capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and uses solid-fuel technology, Pyongyang in February showed off a new medium to long range ballistic missile. The same technology of the KN-11 solid-fuel submarine missiles is believed to be used in the land-based ballistic missile.
Since it makes the missile easier to hide, requires less support and allows for faster launches, solid fuel offers significant advantages over liquid-fuel rockets.
“All of that is very worrisome because that may very well have a nuclear weapon someday,” said Klingner.
Intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach North America is being worked upon by the secretive regime. Quoting a senior regime official in North Korea, NBC News reported in January that Pyongyang could test-fire the ICBM “at any time, at any place.”
(Adapted from CNBC)