North Korea usually buries modes truths in propaganda. This winter, when the pariah state detonated a nuclear device, any progress they’d made on the design was undercut by their claims that it was a hydrogen bomb, when there was clear seismographic evidence it wasn’t. Previously, when Kim Jong-un’s military showed progress on launching missiles from submarines, that progress had to be pulled out frame-by-frame from a triumphant film that intercut the test footage with stock footage of other missile tests.
On Saturday, a North Korean submarine successfully launched a brand-new missile that traveled almost 17 miles.
International waters begin roughly 14 miles (12 nautical miles) from shore, so a North Korean submarine with a missile like this could fire on a coastal city from the open sea, though firing short range missiles like this isn’t the point. (Plus, any submarine that close to shore is likely to be intercepted by patrolling navies or coast guards). Instead, the point of a submarine launched ballistic missile is to have a weapon that can hide at sea, for months at a time, and then deliver atomic death somewhere thousands of miles away. America’s Trident II D-5 missiles, first deployed in 1990, have a range of over 4,600 miles.
The Trident II uses a three-stage rocket, with solid fuel. North Korea claims its latest missile used solid fuel, though it appears to only have been single stage. On Twitter, North Korea watchers debated is the missile was a brand-new design, or an improvement of an older design. Fortunately for analysts, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea published a bunch of pictures of the event, which is a lot of material to work with. It appears a the submarine that fired the missile, sometimes known as a Sinpo-class submarine, was the same as the one that attempted to fire a missile this past winter.
The international community, as expected, isn’t happy about this latest test. U.S. Strategic Command’s statement did its best to diminish the results:
South Korea’s foreign ministry condemned the launch, noting “This act was a serious threat against the security, against not just Korea and northeast Asia, but the world.”
North Korea’s state-owned media, meanwhile, couldn’t contain its praise for the test:
Kim Jong-un watched the tests from the shore, and on the front page of today’s DPRK-owned Rodong Sinmun newspaper, he is seen laughing with joy at the weapon’s progress.