North Korea's Latest Submarine Missile Launch Travels 300 Miles

The fourth such test since December appears to be a success

North Korean Missile Flies Upward

North Korean Missile Flies Upward

Still from an earlier missile test. The missile has more range now than it did in December.Screenshot from YouTube

When all of life feels like a war, every missile is a success. North Korea, a tightly controlled dictatorship locked in a shadowboxing match with the entire western world, keeps building and testing new missiles. Worse still, the missiles keep getting better. On Wednesday, a North Korean submarine fired missile traveled over 300 miles towards Japan, demonstrating an uncomfortable degree of success with the technology.

From Reuters:

The ballistic missile was fired at around 5:30 a.m. (2030 GMT) from near the coastal city of Sinpo, where a submarine base is located, officials at South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defence Ministry told Reuters. The projectile reached Japan's air defence identification zone (ADIZ) for the first time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a briefing, referring to an area of control designated by countries to help maintain air security. The missile was fired at a high angle, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported, an indication that its full range would be 1,000 km (620 miles) at an ordinary trajectory. The distance indicated the North's push to develop a submarine-launched missile system was paying off, officials and experts said.

United States Strategic Command, which monitors missile launches, said in a statement:

U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) systems detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean submarine missile launch at 3:29 p.m. CDT, August 23, 2016. The launch of a presumed KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile occurred off the coast of Sinpo. The missile was tracked over and into the Sea of Japan, approximately 300 miles off the coast of North Korea. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.

North Korea is the only country to detonate a nuclear weapon this century, with the most recent such test in January of this year. Making a working bomb is one-half of the equation to a powerful nuclear threat. The other step is creating a delivery system, which is the term for a missile and the vehicle that launches the missile. Submarines are one of the most popular ways to launch a nuke, because they can travel the sea and hide relatively undetected under water, but submarine launches are hard, since the missiles have to fit into a submarine, successfully clear the surface of the ocean, and then fly in a trajectory that carries them towards their target.

On all fronts, North Korean submarine missiles appear to be getting better. In July, satellite footage revealed new construction on what appears to be larger submarine pens. In December, North Korea had a very unsuccessful launch of a missile from a submarine. In April, Pyongyang tried again, with more success. In July, North Korea tried again, and the missile performed better than previous launches, though it fell short of the desired range.

With this week's test, it appears North Korea has a missile that can travel at least a full 300 miles, possibly longer. For a country largely ignored in the international community except when its rattling sabers and making threats, a better missile might be seen as a way to command more respect. Or, failing that, at least more fear.