North Korea tests new submarine-launched cruise missile

The new submarine-launched cruise missile could strengthen its naval nuclear power, but its usefulness in a real war is doubted.

North Korean submarine-launched cruise missile.
North Korean submarine-launched cruise missile. Photo courtesy: KCNA

North Korea said on Monday that it had successfully tested a new submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) that could enhance its naval nuclear capabilities.

The missile, named “Pulhwasal-3-31,” was the same as the one that the North announced last week as being in development. It flew over the sea along the country’s east coast for more than two hours and hit a designated island target, according to state media.

Leader Kim Jong Un supervised the test and praised it as a “strategic success” that would help “modernize the army and build a strong naval force,” the state-run KCNA news agency and Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported.

The South Korean military confirmed that the North launched multiple cruise missiles from its coast on Sunday, but did not give more details.

Last week, the North said that it tested a new strategic cruise missile, implying that it could carry a nuclear warhead, but did not reveal that it was intended for submarine launch.

State media released photos on Monday that showed a missile being fired from the water into a cloudy sky, followed by a trail of smoke that hid the launch platform.

North Korea’s cruise missiles are usually less provocative and are not directly prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions. However, experts have said that intermediate-range cruise missiles pose a similar threat as ballistic missiles and are a serious weapon for North Korea.

The North has also tested various other weapons in recent months, including ballistic missile systems that are still under development and an underwater drone.

KCNA also said that Kim inspected the construction of a nuclear submarine and talked about the production of other kinds of new warships, but did not provide any specifics.

Last year, the North claimed that it launched its first operational nuclear strike submarine, which analysts said looked like a modified version of an existing submarine and likely capable of carrying ballistic and cruise missiles.

The usefulness of such a vessel in the real world was questioned, especially compared to the more sophisticated land-based missile systems, because its diesel engine makes noise and limits its range, according to weapons experts.

Kim said at that time that the country would speed up the project to build nuclear-powered submarines.

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