What’s next for Pyongyang’s nuclear program? Perhaps construction of its first operational ballistic missile submarine.
Movement of parts and equipment at a key North Korean shipyard indicate workers are assembling a new missile sub on an “accelerated schedule,” according to 38 North, an analysis site run by the US-Korea Institute of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Clues revealed by surveillance photos include large hull sections near construction halls and a test stand likely used for missile-ejection tests.
Even if it becomes successfully armed with nuclear weapons, one missile sub by itself might not be worrisome, from the US point of view. It would add a complication for defense planning more than an entirely new strategic threat. The sub itself almost certainly will be too noisy to get from the Korean coastline undetected.
It’s the direction of the sub program, and what it represents, that’s perhaps the problem. The diversity of North Korea’s nuclear-capable weapons is expanding at a rate that’s surprised US experts. Pyongyang may be moving quickly toward full-spectrum nuclear deterrence, a multi-prong plan intended to protect the existing regime against conventional as well as nuclear attack.
It’s part of a doctrine called “asymmetric escalation,” says one expert, who judges that North Korea has already constructed a strategic force capable of plausibly carrying it out.
“I think we have to assume from a policy perspective that they plausibly do – certainly enough that I wouldn’t risk New York or DC to find out,” says Vipin Narang, a proliferation expert and associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an email response to a reporter’s inquiry.
New shipyard activity
Enter the submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM. North Korea already has an experimental Sinpo-class diesel electric sub that “may” be able to launch ballistic missiles, according to a Congressional Research Service report on North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. CRS says this sub might have been used in testing of a nascent North Korean SLBM, a two-stage, solid-fuel rocket dubbed the KN-11.
Now North Korean engineers are apparently working on a more operational version of this system. In late November 38 North reported that commercial satellite imagery had revealed new activity at the Sinpo South Shipyard, which specializes in submarine construction. Gantry cranes and towers had begun moving around. Photos showed several apparent sub pressure hull sections of about 7 meters in diameter lying on a ramp near an assembly building. A service tower in place suggested imminent missile-ejection tests.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
December 27th, 2017
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