North Korea tested new submarine-launched cruise missile 05/02/2024 | Fabio Di Felice

According to North Korea's state news agency, KCNA, in January 2024, North Korea conducted 2 test launches of a new submarine-launched strategic cruise missile (SLCM) named PULHWASAL-3-31, also known as FIRE ARROW-3-31.

The announcement just came a day after South Korea's military reported the detection of the double launch over waters near the eastern port of Sinpo, where the North has a major shipyard developing submarines. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has supervised the test firings of the new cruise missile, which is designed to be launched from submarines, but the report did not specify the vessel used. South Korean and US intelligence authorities believe that it could be the KIM GUN-OK HERO submarine. According to the photographs released by KCNA, the missile was launched at an oblique angle, raising the possibility that it was ejected from a torpedo tube instead of a vertical launch tube (VLS). In accordance with different sources, the missiles flew for extended durations, approximately 2 hours, and, in accordance with the North Koreans, hitting their intended targets.

Choi Il, the director of the Submarine Research Institute, assessed the PULHWASAL-3-31 missile's capabilities: as potentially suitable for launch from both land and submarines, comparable with the Russian KALIBR cruise missile, with a range of 1,000 to 2,000 km in a low-altitude flight profile, and a relatively moderate top speed between Mach 0.8 to Mach 0.95.

The test firing was the latest of a series of weapons demonstrations and constructions in North Korea, on the long road to “realizing the nuclear weaponization of the North Korean Navy and expanding its sphere of operation against future threats", as reported by Rodong Sinmun, the government newspaper. However, despite the strong will of President Kim to have a submarine force, nuclear powered and armed, there are significant uncertainties regarding the current submarines’ operational readiness, particularly regarding its ability to effectively launch nuclear-capable missiles. North Korea has an estimated 70 to 90 diesel-powered submarines but they are mostly aging vessels capable of launching only torpedoes and mines.

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