On May 9, a Korean People’s Army Naval Force submarine test-launched a ballistic missile off the eastern coast of North Korea. The test launch, reported by North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper, only traveled about 150 meters, according to South Korean defense officials. But it demonstrated that North Korea had developed the capability of performing submerged launches of missiles well ahead of previous intelligence estimates. Based on the launch, South Korean officials now believe that North Korea could have a limited submarine-launched missile capability deployed to its fleet of submarines within the next five years.
The test comes as South Korea nears a decision on the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system. China has been pressuring South Korea to not allow the deployment, but an earlier, barge-based test of the submarine-launchable missile (named “Polaris-1” by North Korea) on April 22 has made the deployment more likely.

North Korean press images of Kim Jong-un’s successful supervision of the “Polaris-1” launch.

Polaris-1 is apparently a close copy of a Soviet-era R-27 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), a liquid-fuel missile which had the NATO designation SS-N-6 “Serb.” This is the third test launch of the missile this year, but it is the first submarine launch. Developed in apparent violation of a UN resolution banning North Korean ballistic missile development, the missile could have a range of about 1,500 miles.
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