North Korea Has Hailed a 'New Phase' of Military Power After Its Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile Test

North Korean state media has lauded Wednesday's submarine-launched ballistic missile test as heralding a "new phase" in the country's military development and self-defense.

The Korean Central News Agency said Thursday that the "SLBM Pukguksong-3" weapon was tested successfully in Wonsan Bay off the east coast of the country, the Yonhap news agency reported.

"The test-firing scientifically and technically confirmed the key tactical and technical indexes of the newly-designed ballistic missile and had no adverse impact on the security of neighboring countries," the KCNA said.

The agency added that the launch had "great significance as it ushered in a new phase in containing the outside forces' threat to the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] and further bolstering its military muscle for self-defense."

KCNA said that leader Kim Jong Un sent "warm congratulations" on the success of the test, suggesting he did not attend the launch.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday that the missile, believed to be an SLBM, reached a height of around 565 miles and traveled around 280 miles before crashing into the sea.

KCNA said the weapon was fired in "vertical mode," which is often used to test ballistic missiles. If fired at a normal trajectory, its range would have been much longer.

North Korea has been regularly testing short-range missiles in recent months, raising fears that dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington may once again break down. However, President Donald Trump has thus far been willing to overlook what he called "very standard" tests.

The Statista graphic below shows that North Korea is on course to set a new record of successful annual missile tests. But Tuesday's test is not the same as the short-range missiles that Trump has—so far—been happy to ignore.

Statista, North Korea, missile tests, launches
This Statista graphic shows an overview of missile tests carried out by North Korea since 1984. Statista

Wednesday's launch was the first nuclear capable missile launch since the 2017 test of the Hwasong-15 ballistic missile, which occurred before Kim Jong Un's surprise detente with the U.S. It was also the first SLBM since August 2016.

The Pukguksong family of ballistic missiles can carry nuclear warheads. Yonhap reported that the range of the Pukguksong-3 is believed to be at least 1,240 miles, putting all of East Asia within striking distance. However, this is not enough to reach the U.S. mainland.

But a submarine armed with the Pukguksong-3 could travel part of the way to the U.S., making the mainland vulnerable to nuclear strike. A North Korean nuclear submarine fleet would also complicate any U.S. war plans to neutralize Pyongyang's arsenal in a pre-emptive strike. SBLMs are extremely hard to detect until they are already fired.

John Nilsson-Wright of the Chatham House think tank and Cambridge University told Newsweek that, if the reports on Wednesday's launch are confirmed, it would be "a further worrying indication that the North Korean administration and regime is succeeding and achieving to make technical progress in its strike capabilities."

Nilsson-Wright said it remains unclear if the missile can carry a nuclear warhead, but "there's no doubt" that North Korea "enhancing its security readiness in this way will be very alarming."

North Korea, SBLM, missile, submarine
This file photo shows a test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea on August 25, 2016. KNS/AFP/Getty Images/Getty

Trump is yet to comment on the North's latest launch. It came just one day after Pyongyang's negotiators announced they would resume denuclearization and sanctions relief talks with the U.S. this weekend.

Trump had suggested the U.S. would employ a "new method" in the next round of talks. This, plus the dismissal of hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton, raised hopes that the two sides could make progress, which thus far have been elusive.

Nilsson-Wright said the launch "may be an effort to enhance the North's bargaining position," though suspects that Trump will once again "downplay the significance" despite the fact that the "material factors are very worrying."

But such a move won't play well with America's regional allies. South Korea and Japan, for example, "have good reason to feel increasingly that the United States' agenda is less about immediate security challenges and more about the optics and the politics of being able to move forward on the North Korean issue," Nilsson-Wright explained.

Meanwhile, an "emboldened" Kim "has time on his side," Nilsson-Wright added. If Trump makes it to 2020, he will face a tough re-election battle. "This is a good opportunity to push the envelope again," he explained. "The cards are on the North Korean side…not on the American."

This article has been updated to include comments from John Nilsson-Wright.

North Korea Has Hailed a 'New Phase' of Military Power After Its Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile Test | News