A South Korean soldier walks past Hyunmoo - 2 L and Hyunmoo - 3 ballistic missiles ahead of a celebration in Pyeongtaek, Seoul on the 25 September 2017, to mark the 69th anniversary of Korea Armed Forces Day. ReUTERS Kim Hong-Ji File: Photo caption
SEOUL, Sept 8 Reuters - South Korea's development of a conventional nuclear ballistic missile SLBM is a ground-breaking move, analysts said with implications for North Korea, the U.S. alliance and even the prospect of nuclear weapons in South Korea.
Last week, Yonhap news agency conducted ejection testing of the SLBM from its new submarine Dosan Ahn Chang-ho KSS-III Dosan Ahn Chang-ho SSS-III, reported by South Korea, showcasing a unique capability. It is the only nation to have such weapons with nuclear warheads. Seoul says conventionally armed missile is designed to help counter any attack from North Korea by the United States. Analysts say the unusual weapon also checks many other boxes, including undermining South Korea's reliance on the United States and providing a foundation for any future endeavor to build nuclear weapons.
The ministry of defence declined to confirm the tests, but said it is pursuing upgraded missile systems to counter North Korea.
The sub-launched missile, believed to be a variant of the nation's ground-based Hyunmoo 2 B ballistic missile, with a flight range of about 500 km 311 miles is smaller than the nuclear tipped SLBMs developed by the North.
H.I. However, Sutton a specialist in military submarines said that the South's technology is more advanced and called the combination of an SLBM and the submarine's quiet independent air propulsion system a potential game changer. In these respects it was the most potent conventionally powered and armed submarine in the world, he wrote in a report for Naval News.
The United States - based NCOSM is one of a wide range of national missiles that South Korea is developing to augment its Overwhelming Response doctrine, said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the U.S. The doctrine is an operational plan for strikes to incapacitate a North Korean attack or pre-empt its leadership in a major conflict.
The SLBM is nominally justified in these terms, granting North Korean planners a highly Survivable Conventional Second strike option in the face of a North Korea attack. These missile systems would punish North Korea's leadership in the case of an attack on the south, he said.
Although submarine-launched ballistic missiles are usually associated with nuclear weapons, that does not mean South Korea has them or is pursuing them, he said.
However, if an alliance with the United States suddenly changes or South Korea's national defence needs drastically shift, these SLBMs would provide an immediate available foundation for a limited, survivable nuclear force, he added.
For now it is an academic debate but one that has made its way into the current South Korean presidential campaign, with some conservative candidates arguing that the country should seek a nuclear deterrent either on its own or by hosting American weapons, as some NATO allies do.
In 1991, the United States ceased its battlefield nuclear weapons from South Korea, but have continued to protect its allies under a nuclear umbrella. However, recent years were very hard for U.S.-South Korean integration with now-U.S. force. S.P. Donald Trump pressing South Korea to pay more for the American military presence there, and even suggesting that countries, including South Korea and Japan, may need to develop their own nuclear weapons.
If North Korea has not yet given up its nuclear weapons, how can a President prevent us from breaking our own nuclear arms?
The SLBM programme appears not to be part of the first plan to hedge against nuclear weapons, said Joshua Pollack, a researcher from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and co-wrote a report last year warning that advances in conventional missiles in both Koreas helped create a new pathway for a crisis.
It looks like North Korea is trying to catch up with South Korea, said he. For decades, each side of the world has been determined to show that it is more advanced and capable. In July 2019 North Korean state media showed leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a large, newly built submarine. While analysts did not describe the submarine's weapons, North Korea believed the apparent size indicated it was designed to carry ballistic missiles.
Later that year, North Korea says it has successfully tested a new SLBM from the sea and presented a new SLBM design during a military parade in Pyongyang in January.
One diplomatic source said it was likely that other countries would follow South Korea's lead.
So far the test launch has not elicited public responses from officials from others in North Korea, Japan, China or other near countries, but South Korea's neighbours are bound to ask tough questions, Pollack said.
The loser is the entire region, in the throes of a multi-sided missile race, he said.