North Korea may be threatened by food shortages, but that isn't stopping its push to turn the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea into a powerhouse of missile technology. According to North Korean state news, leader Kim Jong Un, who also serves as the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, oversaw drills involving a “new type” of anti-ship missile this week.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper called the new missiles “ultra-modern” and “highly intelligent” and said they will be soon be deployed for use by the military’s naval units. The new missile is reportedly capable of hitting a target up to 120 km away, or roughly 75 miles.
South Korea’s defense ministry has been watching the missile tests from across the border warily. According to ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok, North Korea was testing other short-range missiles off the country’s eastern coast on Sunday, with ranges nearing 100 km, about 62 miles. Kim reportedly “expressed great satisfaction” with the launches, saying the “rockets accurately hit the target and their capability for discerning [the] target is very high.”
“North Korea appears to be developing new missiles that would replace its old Soviet-designed anti-ship missiles,” the spokesman told reporters in a press briefing. According to North Korean media, the new missile is completely North Korean-designed.
“This is a proud fruition of the devoted efforts of the scientists, technicians and munitions industrial workers in the field of defense science,” the North Korean leader reportedly said, adding that he wants the Korean People’s Army to continue to strengthen homegrown defense technology to compete on a global level.
Though North Korea appears to be making strides in domestic technology, defense experts say most of North Korea’s supposedly new defense tech mimics Soviet-era missiles or submarines.
The series of tests is the most recent since North Korea claimed its naval forces were able to fire a submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM. Though external intelligence was unable to verify whether the launch was successful -- claims that photos provided by state media were digitally enhanced or photoshopped -- IHS Jane’s 360 reports that a fully developed SLBM would be a drastically important asset to North Korea, allowing for missiles to hit well beyond the Korean peninsula.
Only a handful of nations have SLBMs; currently, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France and China -- possess operational missiles that can be launched by submarines. India is developing them. All of those nations are nuclear powers, able to tip those missiles with a nuclear warhead that could strike, in theory, almost anywhere in the world thanks to a submarine's range and stealth. North Korea also possesses nuclear weapons, but it is unknown whether it has mastered the technology to put them on a sub-launched missile.