Moon calls homegrown missiles a "definite deterrence against North Korean provocations"

한겨레 입력 2021. 9. 16. 17:16 수정 2021. 9. 16. 17:46
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South Korea's defense ministry has been uncharacteristically forthcoming about its recent weapons developments amid a series of missile launches by the North
A South Korean-developed submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) is launched from a 3,000-ton class Dosan Ahn Chang-ho-class submarine on Wednesday. President Moon Jae-in, along with other key government and military figures, were present during the test at the Agency for Defense Development’s Anheung Test Center. (provided by the Ministry of National Defense)

“We wanted to show the public that we had this level of ability,” said an official from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense.

The official was announcing South Korea’s successful test launch of a homegrown submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Wednesday. This was uncharacteristic for Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, which often declines to confirm information about weapon development programs for security reasons.

Following reports that the North is developing an SLBM in the Pukguksong line that could be a game changer on the battlefield, the Ministry seems determined not only to counter North Korea but to reassure an anxious public at home.

Such intentions were evident in the Ministry’s declaration that South Korea is the seventh country in the world to successfully develop an SLBM. The Ministry said that the SLBM weapon system is only operated by six other countries — the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, and India — because the technology required is extremely tough to develop.

Though North Korea is seeking to develop an SLBM, South Korea didn’t include it on that list because the North tested its SLBM from a barge rather than a submarine.

While North Korea hasn’t pulled off an underwater launch yet, the missile in Wednesday’s test was launched from the Dosan Ahn Changho, a 3,000-ton submarine. The missile flew for the intended distance and hit the target precisely, the ministry explained.

The ministry has carried out three types of tests to prepare the SLBM for active service: an aboveground ejection launch, an underwater ejection launch, and a launch from a submarine.

The test on Wednesday wrapped up the technical confirmation of the “cold launch” system, which is regarded as the key technology of SLBMs. In a cold launch system, the missile’s engine is ignited after it’s propelled out of the water using air pressure from the launch tube.

“The SLBM launch process consists of cold launch, booster ignition, main propulsion ignition, flight, and impact. This is the first time the entire test was successful from submarine launch to final impact,” a ministry official said.

SLBMs are regarded as a game changer because of submarines’ ability to stay hidden and withstand attacks. Missiles that are launched from ground bases and aircraft can be detected by radar or located in advance by enemy forces.

Such missiles would be an opponent’s primary target during a war, and would likely be destroyed. But ballistic missiles on submarines would remain hidden underwater and available for sudden attacks on an adversary's major targets.

That’s why the Blue House and the Ministry of National Defense said that South Korea’s acquisition of SLBMs gives it a higher level of deterrence from threats of all kinds.

“Augmenting our missile capabilities can create a definite deterrence against North Korean provocations. We have demonstrated adequate deterrence through this successful test,” said South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

North Korea, China and Japan are all keeping a close eye on the situation.

“China has noted relevant reports. We hope countries concerned can jointly contribute to regional peace, stability and development,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, when asked about South Korea’s SLBM test during a daily press conference on Tuesday.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense also said on Wednesday that it had successfully developed a ballistic missile with an overwhelming response capability in the middle of the year. With a warhead mass of more than 3 tons — one of the world’s heaviest — this ballistic missile would be capable of devastating major underground facilities.

This missile and the SLBM would be able to destroy key North Korean facilities in the event of a conflict, a capability that’s likely to impact the strategic balance on the Korean Peninsula.

Following North Korea’s proclamations about strengthening its nuclear arsenal, South Korea has responded by stressing an independent defense strategy and developing cutting-edge conventional weaponry.

That’s raising concerns about a security dilemma. When one country expands its military to strengthen security, the other side tends to get nervous and expand its own military in turn.

Ultimately, this kind of tit-for-tat arms race paradoxically results in less security for both sides.

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, senior staff writer

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