SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Thursday it has carried out its first underwater-launched ballistic missile test in three years, in an apparent bid to dial up pressure on the United States ahead of a weekend resumption of their nuclear diplomacy.
Wednesday’s test of the Pukguksong-3 missile, which North Korea describes as a type of missile capable of being launched from a submarine, is seen as the North’s most high-profile weapons launch since it began diplomacy with the United States early last year. Some experts say North Korea wants to show to the U.S. what would happen if diplomacy fails again
The Korean Central News Agency said the missile test in the waters off its east coast was successful and “ushered in a new phase in containing the outside forces’ threat to (North Korea) and further bolstering its military muscle for self-defense.”
The KCNA report didn’t initially elaborate on whether the missile was fired from a submarine, a barge or other underwater launch platform. North Korea-dispatched photos showed the missile rising and spewing bright flames above a cloud of smoke from the sea, but the launch platform was not identifiable.
The Pentagon said the short-to-medium range missile was not launched from a submarine.
Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters Thursday there was “no indication that it was launched from a submarine, but rather, a sea-based platform.” Other defense officials described it as a barge or floating platform.
Michael Elleman, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the North Korean photos show “a missile breaching the sea’s surface after being ejected from an underwater launch tube, and then igniting its first-stage motor.”
He wrote on the website 38 North that the missile was likely launched from “a submersible barge rather than a submarine, as evidenced by the nearby surface ship that presumably towed the barge to a safe off-shore location.”
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, issued a similar assessment, saying the missile was likely from a barge built for an underwater launch. He said the missile is under development and that North Korea must test-fire it from a submarine before deploying it.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the North Korean missile traveled about 450 kilometers (280 miles) at a maximum altitude of 910 kilometers (565 miles). Ministry officials said it flew higher than any other short-range weapons North Korea test-fired in recent months.
KCNA said the missile was launched in a vertical mode and that its test had no adverse impact on the security of neighboring countries. It said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent “warm congratulations” to the national defense scientific research units involved in the test-firing
If fired at a standard trajectory, Kim, the analyst, said the missile could have travelled 1,500-2,000 kilometers (930-1,240 miles). He said the Pukguksong-3 is a medium-range missile. North Korea hadn’t tested a medium- and long-range missiles since its entrance to talks with the United States.
North Korean and U.S. officials are to meet on Saturday in Stockholm to restart diplomacy on how to end the North Korean nuclear crisis. That diplomacy largely remains stalemated after the February breakdown of a second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Vietnam.
The U.N. Security Council will hold closed consultations Tuesday on North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launches, diplomats said Thursday.
Britain, France and Germany called for a council meeting following the recent series of missile launches, which are a violation of U.N. sanctions.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke with his Japanese defense counterpart on Thursday and the two men agreed that the launch was “unnecessarily provocative,” and not helpful in the effort to get North Korea back on the diplomatic path toward denuclearization.
The missile landed inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone for the first time since November 2017.
North Korea has recently warned its dealings with the United States may end if Washington fails to come up with new proposals to salvage the nuclear diplomacy by December.
Pukguksong, or Polaris, is a solid-fuel missile in the North’s weapons arsenal. The country first test-launched a Pukguksong-1 missile from an underwater platform in 2016, and Kim said at the time his military had gained “perfect nuclear-attack capability.” A year later, the North test-launched a Pukguksong-2, a land-based variant of the missile.
North Korea having an ability to fire a missile from a submarine is a threat to the United States and its allies because such launches are harder to detect early enough to respond. The use of solid fuel also increases a weapon’s mobility.
After Wednesday’s launch, the U.S. State Department called on North Korea “to refrain from provocations, abide by their obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions, and remain engaged in substantive and sustained negotiations to do their part to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and achieve denuclearization.”