N. Korea 'progressing on new submarine'

Pyongyang's push to develop ballistic missile sub could take its nuclear threat to new level

NORTH KOREA • Recent satellite images suggest North Korea has completed the external refurbishment of a shipyard dedicated to building and launching a new class of ballistic missile submarine, a US think-tank said yesterday.

While it is unlikely that any such vessel would become operational before 2020, the North's efforts to develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) are clearly "making progress", according to the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

A credible SLBM capability would take North Korea's nuclear strike threat to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and providing the potential to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack.

Last month, one of the North's experimental submarines carried out a test in the Sea of Japan, launching a missile that travelled about 30km. South Korea deemed the test a failure as the missile appeared to have exploded, but analysts at the US-Korea Institute said it was a success.

"It was probably intended to be limited, focusing upon the submarine's launch systems, missile ignition sequence and initial guidance operations rather than a full operational test," the institute said, predicting further similar launches this year before a full-range flight test.

Referring to the country's nuclear arsenal as a "precious sword", Rodong said the weapons were a "treasure of all happiness that will ensure many things in decades to come".

This comes amid widespread speculation - backed in part by satellite imagery - that North Korea is preparing to conduct a fifth nuclear test just before or even during, the ruling party's congress to underline its claim to be a genuine nuclear power.

The rare gathering - the first of its kind in nearly 40 years - has involved mobilising the entire country in a 70-day campaign that ended on Monday.

North Korean state media hailed national leader Kim Jong Un as the "Great Sun of the 21st Century" yesterday as final preparations were made for the congress, which will open tomorrow.

The congress is seen as the young leader's formal coronation. It is expected to cement his status as supreme leader more than four years after he came to power following the death of his father Kim Jong Il.

The ruling party's official mouthpiece, the Rodong Sinmun daily, said the congress was a "sacred" event that would enshrine Mr Kim's achievements, from infrastructure projects to developing SLBMs.

Referring to the country's nuclear arsenal as a "precious sword", Rodong said the weapons were a "treasure of all happiness that will ensure many things in decades to come".

Some observers believe Mr Kim will use the congress to confirm the completion of North Korea's nuclear deterrent and announce a switch in focus to economic development.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'N. Korea 'progressing on new submarine''. Print Edition | Subscribe