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North Korea launches suspected sub-launched ballistic missile toward Japan

North Korea missile launch (US Dept of Defense/Released)
October 19, 2021

North Korea fired off a suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) into the Sea of Japan on Tuesday, Japanese and South Korean officials said.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) tweeted, “Statement on DPRK Missile Launch: We are aware of the North Korean ballistic missile launch this morning into the Sea of Japan and are consulting closely with the Republic of Korea & Japan, as well as other regional allies and partners.”

“The United States condemns these actions and calls on the DPRK to refrain from any further destabilizing acts,” INDOPACOM added in a statement shared on its website. “While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation. The U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan, remains ironclad.”

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) believe the missile was launched eastward from a site near the North Korean city of Sinpo, in its east-coast South Hamgyong Province, The Korea Herald reported. Sinpo is where North Korea has been working on a 3,000-ton submarine capable of carrying a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

“Our military detected one unidentified short-range ballistic missile presumed to be an SLBM fired by North Korea,” South Korea’s JCS said in a statement reported by Japan Times.

“The intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are currently conducting a thorough analysis regarding additional details on the missile,” South Korea’s JCS said in a text statement to reporters.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he had been informed of the incident, which he said involved two missile launches. When questioned about the discrepancy, he insisted he had been briefed about two launches.

“North Korea’s remarkable nuclear and missile technology development is something we cannot overlook,” Kishida told reporters later in the afternoon. “Amid this situation, I’ve already given instructions to revise our country’s National Security Strategy, including considering the option of acquiring the capability to strike enemy bases.”

The launch is the first suspected North Korean SLBM test since 2019. According to the Associated Press, it may also be the most significant display of North Korean military power since President Joe Biden took office.

The launch comes a week after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended a weapons exhibition that included displays of new North Korean ballistic missiles. During the exhibition, Kim vowed to build an “invincible military capability.”

The likely SLBM launch also came ahead of a trilateral meeting between the U.S., South Korea and Japan, planned for later in the day on Tuesday in the South Korean capital of Seoul to discuss the threat posed by North Korea and other pressing issues. The meeting will feature the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia and Special Envoy to North Korea, Sung Kim; South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, Noh Kyu-duk; and Japan’s Director General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, Funakoshi Takehiro.

This article was updated to correct a U.S. official’s current positions.