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‘N.K. to deploy SLBM in 3-4 years’

North Korea would be able to deploy a submarine-launched ballistic missile within three to four years -- one year earlier than previously expected -- as it has repeatedly conducted tests on the underwater weapons system, Seoul’s military authorities said Saturday.

But they noted that the video footage of a recent SLBM ejection test -- aired last Friday by the North’s official Korean Central Television -- seems to have been manipulated. In the clip, the SLMB was seen soaring high into the sky as if it was fully operational.

“In an SLBM ejection test in May, the picture showed a 74-degree launch angle. But in the test, the rocket was launched at a 90-degree angle,” a military official told reporters. 

“This shows that there is a possibility that Pyongyang’s SLBM ejection technology has improved to a certain extent.”

The North’s state broadcaster showed the clip in which an SLBM was seen quickly rising dozens of meters into the sky releasing lots of fumes, after it was launched at a 90-degree angle from an underwater platform.

But the official presumed that the North seemed to have manipulated the clip with one of a Scud missile test to pretend that the recent SLBM test was successful.

“Pyongyang’s SLBM technology seems to be at a stage of underwater rocket ejection. We believe that they have yet to reach a stage where they can conduct a SLBM flight test.”

With the North focusing its “national-level” energy on developing the SLBM, the reclusive regime would be able to accelerate the development of the formidable weapons system, he added.  

Security allies Seoul and Washington have been closely watching Pyongyang’s push for the SLBM development, which could pose a higher level of nuclear threat to the security on the peninsula and beyond.

Pyongyang is seen to have conducted SLBM tests in May, November and December, through which it is thought to have upgraded the underwater weapons technology. 

Fears about the SLBM stem from the North’s potential “second-strike capability” to launch a sudden nuclear retaliation if it suffers a “first strike” from enemy forces.

The second-strike capability forms the basis of a condition referred to as “mutual assured destruction” that maintained the “balance of terror” between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War. SLBMs are at the core of the capability as submarines can launch targeted surprise attacks on enemy forces.

“The SLBM is the ultimate, the most formidable form of nuclear arms -- a reason why people call it a true game changer,” said Park Won-gon, security expert at Handong Global University.

“When the submarine carrying these missiles cruise deep underwater, it is virtually impossible to detect. So we never know when the North would launch a surprise SLBM attack.”

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)


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