NK Tests Sub-Launched Ballistic Missile In Show Of "Second-Strike Capability"

North Korea has confirmed a new successful missile launch on Wednesday, which notably involved its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in three years, and a new type of "vertical mode" ballistic missile. 

The test was "to contain external threats and bolster self-defense" as Reuters reports, and comes just two days ahead of working level talks with the United States in Stockholm, Sweden at the end of this week. 

Photo of the launch in the official NK newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

State news agency KCNA hailed the "successful" test as of "great significance" as it marks a "new phase" in defending North Korea from the threat of "outside forces" via a "new-type ballistic missile fired in vertical mode” in waters off Wonsan Bay.

There's little doubt that the tests are meant to give Pyongyang some last minute leverage just before heading into talks with Washington

Noting the crucial timing of the SLMB test, The Guardian reports the following:

Ankit Panda of the Federation of American Scientists described the missile, the Pukguksong-3, as Pyongyang’s longest-range-capable solid-fuel missile, adding that Wednesday’s launch was “unambiguously the first nuclear-capable missile test since November 2017”.

“Kim Jong Un’s ‘rocket men’ kept busy during the diplomatic charm offensives of 2018-2019,” Panda added.

Analysts believe it was likely launched from a special underwater platform designed for the test, or possibly from a submarine. 

Wednesday's SLMB launch, via KCNA/Reuters

The ability to launch SLMBs from submarines or from anywhere in the water gives the north a "second-strike capability". If its bases or cities come under attack, it can rely on its underwater arsenal, which is considered much harder for other nations' defenses to detect. 

Meanwhile, South Korea's military described that Wednesday's test involved the missile traveling about 450km in an easterly direction and reaching an altitude of 910km.