North Korea has completed what is believed to be a submarine-based missile launch off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. According to officials of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the ballistic missile was fired at approximately 6:30 p.m. Koran local time (5:30 a.m. EST). The missile launch, the latest in a show of one-upmanship by North Korea aimed at proving military its military superiority to its U.S.-backed neighbor to the South, comes on the fore of a reported underwater submarine missile launch test last May.
That particular missile launch by North Korea, witnessed via boat by a smiling Kim Jong-Un, was deemed to be a failure by the international community. After that particular underwater missile launch, KNCA, the official state news agency of North Korea, reported that the missile launch had been a success, calling the projectile a “world-level strategic weapon” that soared into the sky. Despite North Korea’s optimistic hyperbole, ballistic experts determined that the photographs were doctored and the success of the May missile launch overstated, and possibly outright faked.
Tensions between the Koreas, inherently high to begin with, has increased since North Korea ordered a nuclear test in January, as well as preparations for a long-range rocket launch. The nuclear test, North Korea’s fourth, as well as the February launch of a long-range rocket carrying what Pyongyang claimed to be an Earth observation satellite, prompted a February U.S./South Korean joint maneuvers exercise. It is the policy of the U.S. to deploy assets in support of Seoul whenever North Korea engages in activities seen as aggressive.
In light of those recent exercises between U.S. F-22 “Raptor” class stealth fighters and South Korean South Korean F-15K “Slam Eagle” aircraft, it is hardly a surprise that North Korea would push its military and scientific communities hard to complete a successful missile launch. The missile launched by North Korea this morning is believed to be an intermediate-range Musudan class missile. In simple terms, a ballistic missile is a projectile that has a trajectory that is determined by gravity and any existing air resistance.
In other words, once given the propulsive force needed to reach its target upon missile launch, the weapon needs no other guidance besides gravity and aerodynamic drag. One may think of such a missile launch as a rocket being propelled from a giant sling; as long as the sling provides enough propulsion to counter for drag, and the aim of the person guiding the sling is accurate, the missile will reach its target with no other guidance. Because it relies solely on propulsion, any efforts to change its trajectory short of intercepting it will likely be rendered moot.
An intermediate range missile launch has a travelling range of roughly 1,864 to 3,418 miles, depending upon the strength of propulsion and the amount of drag. To place that in strategic perspective, the distance between North Korea and Hong Kong is 1,341 miles. The ability for North Korea to engage in a submarine based missile launch is an even more worrisome development. Not only do propulsion-based based ballistic missile launches have the advantage of not needing sophisticated guidance systems that can malfunction or be interfered with, the ability to engage a missile launch from a submerged position aids North Korea in evading early detection.
South Korea is likely to respond to this missile launch by North Korea with strategic developments of its own, likely involving the U.S.
[Picture by Wohae Cho/Getty Images AsiaPac]