South Koreans watch news of the North's latest launch of a short-range ballistic missile into the East Sea at the Seoul Station in central Seoul Tuesday. The South Korean military said the North fired a suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) at around 10:17 a.m. from Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, Tuesday morning. [NEWS1]
North Korea fired a suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) toward the East Sea Tuesday morning, said South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The JCS said that one short-range ballistic missile, presumed to be an SLBM, was launched at around 10:17 a.m. from the vicinity of North Korea's eastern port city of Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, into the East Sea.
A naval base is located in Sinpo, and it is the home port of North Korea’s ballistic missile submarine program.
If confirmed, this would mark North Korea's first SLBM test since Pyongyang's announcement of a successful launch of its Pukguksong-3 in October 2019.
The latest ballistic missile was estimated to have a maximum altitude of 60 kilometers and a flight range of around 590 kilometers, said an informed source.
South Korean military authorities are analyzing the possibility the latest missile was launched from a submarine, said multiple sources, a capability which would bringing the North closer to deploying a functioning SLBM.
North Korea is suspected to have conducted test launches from submersible barges rather than a submarine for its SLBM tests in 2015 and 2019.
Defense analysts are also keeping open the possibility that North Korea may have tested a new type of SLBM, upgraded from the Pukguksong-3, which has an estimated range of 2,000 kilometers.
Pyongyang showcased upgraded SLBMs, including the Pukguksong-4, at the Workers' Party's 75th anniversary military parade in October 2020, and the Pukguksong-5 "strategic" weapon at a Workers' Party Congress parade on Jan. 14 this year. The North also unveiled a new "mini" SLBM, smaller than the Pukguksong-1, in a military event on Oct. 11.
The JCS first confirmed at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday that an "unidentified projectile" was fired into the East Sea before elaborating later in the day.
South Korean and U.S. military authorities are further analyzing the launch while maintaining a readiness posture for the possibility of additional launches.
Seoul and Tokyo officials had an initial discrepancy in the number of projectiles detected.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Tuesday while visiting Fukushima that North Korea launched "two ballistic missiles," calling them “extremely regrettable."
A Seoul military official confirmed that there was one missile, as detected by South Korea and the United States.
The Blue House immediately called a meeting of a National Security Council (NSC) standing committee chaired by Suh Hoon, director of the National Security Office, to discuss a response to the launch.
The committee met for 70 minutes from 11:30 a.m., a little over an hour after news of the launch, and was briefed by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Won In-choul. The meeting was attended by Unification Minister Lee In-young, Defense Minister Suh Wook and other national security officials.
In a statement, the NSC expressed "deep regret that North Korea’s launch occurred while active consultations are under way with the United States, China, Japan, Russia and other key countries to advance the Korean Peninsula peace process."
The members "reaffirmed that stability on the Korean Peninsula is more important than ever," urging North Korea to "come forward for dialogue for peace on the Korean Peninsula at an early date."
They also agreed to closely monitor North Korea’s movements in the future and to deliberate necessary measures through close consultations with the United States and other countries.
This marks Pyongyang's eighth confirmed weapons test this year. North Korea launched a new hypersonic missile, the Hwasong-8, on Sept. 28 and a newly developed anti-aircraft missile on Sept. 30. It also tested new long-range cruise missiles and train-launched ballistic missiles last month.
In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said it "condemns" North Korea's "ballistic missile launch," calling on Pyongyang to refrain from “any further destabilizing acts.”
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation,” the command added. “The U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK [Republic of Korea] and Japan remains ironclad."
The latest launch coincides with talks between South Korean, U.S. and Japanese intelligence officials in Seoul Tuesday, and trilateral talks between the three countries' top nuclear envoys scheduled to be held the same day in Washington.
BY SARAH KIM [[email protected]]
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