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