North Korea says it tested ‘strategic cruise missiles’ from submarine . Underwater drill demonstrates ‘diverse’ nuclear strike methods, state media says, as large-scale US-ROK drills start

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State media said the “underwater launching drill” off the east coast serves as “proof of the regular operating posture of [our] nuclear war deterrent means in diverse spaces.” The report did not mention the presence of leader Kim Jong Un at the test.

The Rodong Sinmun report also stated the test “clearly expressed the invariable position of the Korean People’s Army to constantly control with overwhelming and powerful strength the present situation in which the military moves of the U.S. imperialists and south Korean puppet traitors against the DPRK get undisguised.”

The two missiles were launched from the August 24 (8.24) Hero submarine on Sunday morning in Kyongpho Bay near Sinpho, the report said. Each flew a total distance of around 932 miles (1,500 km) in figure-8 patterns over the East Sea (Sea of Japan) for a duration of 7,563 and 7,575 seconds, respectively, or around 125 minutes.

The test marks the first cruise missile launch from the August 24 Hero submarine, possibly from a torpedo tube it is speculated to have. DPRK media last reported that the vessel was used to launch a larger ballistic missile from a single vertical launch tube in its sail in Oct. 2021. | Images: KCNA (March 13, 2023)

North Korea last utilized the same submarine to test-launch a ballistic missile in Oct. 2021. Outside analysts identified evidence in satellite imagery that confirmed the submarine’s use for that test, as opposed to a towed underwater launch platform used in some previous tests.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) claimed it detected the latest launch but did not announce it until just minutes before North Korea released its report and images in state media Monday morning.

Later on Monday, Lee Seong-joon, head of the JCS’ Public Affairs Office, told reporters that Seoul didn’t disclose details of its detection in real time in order to “protect our surveillance and information [gathering] abilities.”

Lee confirmed that the test was conducted underwater but said “there is a difference between what North Korea presented and what we detected” and requested that people “please not believe everything North Korea [said],” without specifying which part.

Another image of the March 12 test released on Monday | Image: KCNA (March 13, 2023)

The South Korean military made similar comments about protecting surveillance methods after a cruise missile test last October, while stating that it disagreed with North Korea’s claims about a test of the same missile system a month later.

The reported flight time and distance of Sunday’s missiles are similar to North Korea’s first “long-range cruise missile” test in Sept. 2021. The country’s most recent cruise missile test last month was of the newly named “Hwasal-2” model, which reportedly has a longer range.

The Party Central Military Commission (CMC) “expressed satisfaction over the result of the launching drill,” the Rodong Sinmun report added.

State media released details Sunday morning of a CMC meeting led by Kim Jong Un, but did not disclose the meeting date.

That meeting reportedly discussed “important practical steps for making more effective, powerful and offensive use of the war deterrent of the country in coping with the present situation in which the war provocations of the U.S. and south Korea are reaching the red-line.”

State TV aired one additional photo of the cruise missile launch on Monday morning (five total), showing one missile flying with its wings deployed | Image: KCTV (March 13, 2023)

The U.S. and South Korea have been conducting joint drills in recent weeks and kicked off their large-scale Freedom Shield exercises just after midnight on Monday, according to Seoul’s defense ministry.

“The two sides have set their stalls out — the U.S. and ROK determined to carry out their military exercises, and North Korea planning a suite of as-yet unknown tests and launches,” Christopher Green, an analyst for International Crisis Group, told NK News about the latest test.

“The result will in all likelihood be a seemingly very dangerous but ultimately quite well-controlled period of escalation on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based lecturer in international relations at Troy University, called the reported submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) test a “significant development and technological achievement,” but added that “there are several technical and institutional difficulties in operating such a submarine system.”