These days, finding out that Little Rocket Man has scheduled or conducted another missile test is pretty much just another day ending in a “Y.” Kim Jong-un has been busy firing rockets multiple times per week, including one that went directly through Japan’s restricted airspace last week. But the latest news about a potential missile launch by  North Korea’s diminutive dictator came with a bit of a twist. It’s alleged that he now has an ICBM capable of being fired from underwater. If confirmed, this news could significantly up the ante in terms of the nuclear arms race currently expanding around the globe.

The full report can be read at The Drive. North Korean state media released a super-cut video of various missile launches that took place in September and October. The big surprise was that one of the missiles was launched from underwater. The part of the story that they “don’t want you to laugh at” is the fact that this launch didn’t come from a submarine. It was launched from under a lake. That doesn’t sound terribly threatening (unless you happen to live near the lake in question), but it could serve as a proof of concept showing that North Korea is getting closer to being able to deploy ballistic missiles from submarines. And it turns out they’ve already done so, though not missiles of the nuclear variety.

Over the weekend, North Korean state media released a series of pictures of ballistic missile launches the country had carried out between September 25 and October 9, including from the rare and extremely provocative shot over Japan last week. In doing so, officials in Pyongyang revealed a previously unknown capability in the country’s missile arsenal, the ability to fire ballistic missiles intended to be launched from submarines from submerged launchers in lakes. While North Korea has mobile ballistic missile launchers, some of them gigantic in size, and has previously demonstrated the ability to employ ballistic missiles from trains, all of which enhance survivability, a lake-based launch concept could offer another level of protection. This is especially true when it comes to realizing some kind of rudimentary second-strike nuclear deterrent.

An official news story from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) accompanying the pictures said that the launch of the missile from the lake – technically a reservoir – was conducted on September 25. The exact type of missile does not appear to have been named in the news item, but pictures clearly show that it is an example of an apparently short-range submarine-launch ballistic missile (SLBM) type that the North Koreans first unveiled publicly in October 2021.

So firing a missile from a submersible launcher at the bottom of a lake may not sound very daunting. But as The Drive points out, spotting an underwater launch facility would be far more challenging than one of their platforms on land or even a mobile launcher. This reduces the chances of a first strike against North Korea completely taking out its nuclear capabilities.

And once that platform becomes mobile the entire equation changes. You might be thinking that we don’t need to worry about this in the near future because such a scenario would require Kim to have a submarine capable of launching an ICBM. But as it turns out, he already does. In fact, he has two of them, the SINPO-B and the SINPO-C. They’re fairly recent, but they’ve already been tested at sea. And yes, they can launch ballistic missiles. (Covert Shores)

While his father mostly built a large fleet of midget submarines, Kim Jong-Un is focusing on ballistic missile submarines. Not exclusively, there is a mysterious new midget submarine too, but substantially. This is combined with an aggressive missile test schedule which, over the course of five years these have progressed from short range wobbles to serious capabilities. Now when the North conducts a test launch, even of a brand new missile, we expect a success. It is a formidable capability and one which is shaping the force.

You can view a surveillance photo of the SINPO-B ballistic missile submarine surfacing after a successful test missile launch here.

Is this a matter of concern in terms of national security? Clearly, it is. Is this a reason to panic? Well… not yet. North Korea has a lot of submarines, numbering roughly 70. But almost all of them are “midget” class submarines that will never be able to fire a missile. They have sunk ships with torpedos from them, however. But those subs rarely leave port because of fuel and supply issues along with many reported maintenance problems.

The two ballistic missile submarines go out only occasionally also. There is no indication that Kim has the ability to grow his ballistic missile submarine fleet significantly in the near future. But the fact that North Korea has mastered the technology and will be ready to set sail with some nukes in the not-too-distant future is obviously a concern. The tiny tyrant won’t be challenging the size or capability of the United States or Russian fleets for a very long time. But let’s not forget that he only needs to get off one shot successfully to do some horrific damage.

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