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North’s SLBM has range of 2,800 km: report

Nov 12,2019
The submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) North Korea launched last month may have a range of up to 2,800 kilometers (1,740 miles), approximately twice longer than the SLBM it tested three years ago, according to a South Korean report.

A report published Monday by Chang Young-keun, a professor at the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering of Korea Aerospace University, said the Pukguksong-3 SLBM North Korea tested on Oct. 2 could reach targets between 2,100 and 2,800 kilometers away according to the mass of the warhead attached.

Based on photographs of the Pukguksong-3 revealed by North Korean state media a day after the test from a sea-based platform and information about the flight distance and maximum altitude from the launches, the report also made estimates of the missile’s specifications.

“When considering the sizes of the early SLBMs developed and deployed by the United States, China and Russia and the sizes of the submarines that used them, [Pukguksong-3] is likely to have size specifications comparable to the diameters of these early models,” Chang said.

If North Korea developed the Pukguksong-3 based on the United States’ UGM-27 Polaris and China’s Julang-1 and 2 missiles, the report said it was likely to have a diameter of around 1.5 to 1.65 meters (4.92 to 5.4 feet). The length of the missile, based on photographs, was estimated to be around 5.48 times its diameter, putting it at 8.2 to 9 meters long.

“This estimation also dovetails with the supposition that the Pukguksong-3 will be attached to a 3,000-ton submarine,” Chang said.

The report analyzed the weapon’s specifications based on four possible diameters: 1.50, 1.55, 1.60 and 1.65 meters. Given that the projectile flew around 450 kilometers at a peak altitude of 910 kilometers, the report estimated that the mass of its warhead ranged somewhere between 670 to 980 kilograms (1,477 to 2,161 pounds). With this estimate, the missile may have a maximum range of between 2,000 to 2,200 kilometers if fired at a regular angle.

But if the North has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead for the missile, this maximum range could be stretched up to 2,810 kilometers with a 1.60-meter-diameter SLBM. “If of course North Korea lightened the warhead’s mass even further to 400 kilograms, this maximum range could go even further.” Such a development, in theory, could bring the missile closer to an intercontinental ballistic missile’s range, which at a minimum is around 5,500 kilometers.

In August 2016, when North Korea last tested an SLBM, the Pukguksong-1, the projectile was estimated to have a warhead mass of around 600 kilograms and a maximum range of around 1,200 to 1,300 kilometers.

The obvious implication of this analysis is North Korea’s evolving SLBM capacity presenting a direct threat to the U.S. mainland, which has long been regarded as a line in the sand for American policymakers dealing with the North’s provocations.

Given that North Korea sits around 10,000 kilometers from the western coast of the continental United States, if a 3,000-ton submarine reaches waters around 3,000 kilometers away from California it could very possibly strike at targets inside the United States.

One military source in South Korea said it bluntly: “If the North manages to put a Pukguksong-3 on a 3,000-ton submarine, it can easily put Hawaii or Guam within range.”

BY LEE KEUN-PYUNG [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]