North Korea test-fired a new, smaller ballistic missile from a submarine, state media confirmed on Wednesday, a move that analysts said could be aimed at more quickly fielding an operational missile submarine.
The statement from state media came a day after South Korea’s military reported that it believed North Korea had fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) off its east coast, the latest in a string of North Korean missile tests.
The White House urged North Korea to refrain from further “provocations”, with spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying on Tuesday the United States remained open to engaging diplomatically with North Korea over its weapons programmes.
Pyongyang so far has rejected those overtures, accusing the United States and South Korea of talking diplomacy while ratcheting up tensions with their own military activities.
The development came as South Korean president Moon Jae-in said the country should redouble its efforts to become a global defence industry leader.
Clad in a flight suit, Mr Moon on Wednesday arrived at the biennial Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition in the back seat of an FA-50 jet fighter, South Korea’s first indigenous supersonic aircraft and a major defence export.
A smaller SLBM could mean more missiles stored on a single submarine, although with a shorter range, potentially putting nuclear-armed North Korea closer to fielding an operational ballistic missile submarine.
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“Though a smaller North Korea SLBM design could enable more missiles per boat, it could also enable smaller less challenging SSB designs, including easier integration/conversion on pre-existing submarines,” Joseph Dempsey, a defence researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said on Twitter.
Still, the development was expected to have only a limited impact on Pyongyang’s arsenal until it made more progress on a larger submarine that has been seen under construction.
Chung Eui-yong, South Korean foreign minister, on Wednesday called for Washington to ease sanctions if the North returns to talks.
“Action must be taken as soon as possible to stop North Korea from further developing nuclear and missile capability,” he told parliament. “I think considering relaxing sanctions can surely be an option.”
The United States and Britain plan to raise the North’s latest test during a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, diplomats said.
The “new-type” SLBM was launched from the same submarine involved in a 2016 test of an older SLBM, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said.
Photos released by KCNA appeared to show a thinner, smaller missile than North Korea’s earlier SLBM designs, and may be a previously unseen model first showcased at a defence exhibition in Pyongyang last week.