In a worrisome development, North Korea has reportedly tested a Submarine Launched Missile on 24 Aug 16. DPRK President, Kim Jong Un has himself declared this test as a success a day later. This is a strategic milestone that DPRK has been struggling to achieve for some time. The tests have been in progress since late 2014, graduating from land based cold launches to pontoon based sea launches, to this full-fledged submarine launch with the KN11 missile flying well into Japanese ADIZ. UN Security Council has condemned the missile tests.
Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles essentially provide second strike capability to a nation. It ensures that a nation can survive a first nuclear strike and yet, deliver a second strike in retaliation. However, the road to perfecting this is hard and is paved with several technological hurdles. Firstly, you need a submarine good enough that can stay submerged and stealthy in safe zone of ocean. It must be large enough to house a sophisticated ballistic missile, usually in a vertical configuration. It requires a robust command and control system which ensures a reliable chain of communication from top leadership to a submarine below water. There is also the need for trained trustworthy crew who carry the regimes DNA, obeys the order and has no chance of going rogue! All of these make the SLBM a preserve of very few nations who are now permanent members of the UNSC. In most the above parameters, North Korean records are highly suspect. It has limited inventory of large submarines and does not possess one large enough to carry a traditional SLBM. At best it could house one in the 2000 ton Sinpo Class in the fin portion. Its political stability is highly suspect, which can quickly permeate down the command chain making defections and rogue incidents a scary likelihood. Technologically its capabilities are at best rudimentary. Despite such a situation, DPRK has been ambling along on this road for some years now. This WSJ article highlights that role played other nations, notably by China and Pakistan in aiding the proliferation has been well known, albeit with very little punitive action. Political expediency seems to have eclipsed statesmanship in this regard.
In a sign of complacency, many analysts had dismissed an earlier photograph of Kim Jong Un himself next to a missile popping out water as a handiwork of image manipulation. However, the reality is that DPRK has now achieved notable degree of success in this arena, complicating the security matrix in the region. The plans for Thaad Ballistic Missile defence system, which has seen collateral responses from China and Russia has its root in the North Korean missile program and the threat it poses to US allies in the region. Overall a tenuous situation has worsened further with this development, making the region more prone to a catastrophe.
Link to the WSJ article: http://www.wsj.com/articles/