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South Korea fires first ballistic missile from a submarine

South Korea fires first ballistic missile from a submarine in technological breakthrough as it ramps up spending to defend itself from the North

  • New Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine carried out successful tests last week
  • South Korea joins handful of countries that have developed a submarine missile
  • Submarine-launched ballistic missiles can be armed with nuclear warheads 
  • North Korea has been working on SLBMs but has not yet achieved success 

South Korea has fired its first ballistic missile from a submarine, a technological breakthrough which will be central to defending itself from the nuclear-armed North.

A new Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine successfully carried out the underwater firing tests last week.

South Korea joins only a handful of countries to have successfully developed a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), including Britain, China, France, India, Russia and the United States.   

All of those countries also have arsenals of nuclear weapons, which have typically been used to arm SLBMs. 

A new Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine successfully carried out the underwater firing tests last week. The diesel-powered submarine weighs 3,000 tonnes and is fitted with six vertical launching tubes

The SLBM is believed to be a variant of the country’s Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missile, with a range of around 310 miles, and will be mass produced for deployment after another round of tests, it added. 

Countries with ballistic submarines  

France

Triomphant class – 4 in service

China

Type 092 submarine – 1 in service

Type 094 submarine – 5 in service

India

Arihant class – 1 in service

Russia

Borei class – 4 active

Delta class – 1 Delta III class in service, 6 Delta IV class in service.

Typhoon class – 1 in service, 2 more decommissioned but in reserve.

United Kingdom

Vanguard class – 4 in service

United States

Ohio class – 14 in service (4 have been converted into cruise missile submarines). 

North Korea has long sought to develop SLBM technology, and showed off four such devices at a military parade overseen by leader Kim Jong Un in January, with state media KCNA calling them ‘the world’s most powerful weapon’.

But while North Korea has released pictures of underwater launches, most recently in 2019, analysts believe that was from a fixed platform or submersible barge, rather than a submarine.

South Korea on Monday allocated nearly 1.5 trillion won ($1.3 billion) for defence technology research and development next year in a budget request submitted to parliament.

If approved, it will represent a 76 percent jump in the research budget of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, which will be used to ‘actively develop cutting-edge, future technologies’, according to a press release.

The North is also looking to further enhance its submarine forces.

In January, Kim told a congress of his ruling Workers’ Party that the North had completed plans for a nuclear-powered submarine.

Any such vessel is likely to be years away from going into service, but analysts say it could be a strategic game-changer, enabling Pyongyang to launch a surprise strike underwater even if its land-based forces had been destroyed.

Kim inspected a newly built submarine in 2019, when pictures showed him standing next to a gigantic vessel accompanied by officials.

State media said it would soon be deployed for operations, without giving details of its capabilities. 

South Korea has developed increasingly powerful missiles designed to target heavily fortified bunkers and tunnels in North Korea, as well as a way to decrease its military dependence on the United States, which stations thousands of troops on the peninsula.

Both Koreas cite military developments in the other as reasons to boost their capabilities.

North Korea has unveiled a series of new SLBMs in recent years, and appears to be building an operational submarine designed to eventually carry them.

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