Sep 13, 2016

    Enough for N. Korea if its missiles can reach Guam

    NORTH Korea has been repeatedly test-firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

    On Aug 24, an SLBM was launched off Sinpo, in north-east North Korea, and flew for about 500km.

    If fully deployed, these missiles pose a serious security threat to Japan, the United States and South Korea.

    North Korea's SLBM programme is steadily progressing.

    Looking at footage released by North Korea, the missile ignited the moment it cleared the water and flew smoothly.

    This was the most difficult part, and probably relied on technology provided by the former Soviet Union.

    North Korea is now able to reproduce that technology.

    A series of launches have been carried out since spring, and a missile reached an altitude of 1,000km for the first time in June.

    North Korea's SLBM was launched from a Sinpo-class submarine.

    Only a few countries, including Japan, are capable of building submarines on their own.

    The Sinpo class is most likely a battery-powered submarine of about 2,000 tonnes. It can dive only to shallow depths and operate in coastal waters.

    Technically speaking, it is virtually impossible for North Korea to send its submarines into the Pacific and approach the US mainland in the near future.

    What North Korea wants most is to develop the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, which uses improved technologies from its advanced Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile and is capable of reaching the US mainland.

    If it can do this, North Korea believes it will be on an equal footing with the US in terms of nuclear deterrence.

    The intended target is not Japan or South Korea, but rather Guam, a strategic base for the US military.

    It would be sufficient if SLBMs launched off the coast of Sinpo - like the most recent launch - could reach Guam.

    In terms of nuclear deterrence, the significance of SLBMs lies in their second-strike capability.

    In other words, even if a country's ground-based nuclear capabilities are destroyed in a first nuclear strike, nuclear weapons at sea can be used in a tit-for-tat strike against the enemy.

    Theoretically, this is how they work as a mutual nuclear deterrent.

    If North Korea's SLBMs were to achieve full combat capability, the credibility of the US nuclear umbrella could be undermined.

    This is because it could lead to doubts such as whether the US could really carry out a nuclear strike against North Korea in order to defend Japan or if the US will hesitate, out of fear that Guam will be hit by a retaliatory strike.

    For Japan, the prospect of the nuclear umbrella being disregarded can be considered a threat.