South Korea Develops Submarine-launched Ballistic Missile That Can Carry Nuclear Warheads

South Korea has successfully tested its indigenous submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) which is often used to carry nuclear warheads, in an effort to strengthen its defenses against a nuclear-armed North.

According to Yonhap news agency, South Korea's Agency for Defense Development (ADD) carried out underwater ejection tests of the SLBM from the Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine last week after successful launches from an underwater barge last month. The locally developed 3,000-ton class submarine is equipped with six vertical launch tubes.

The missile is an upgraded version of the country's Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missile, with a range of 500 kilometers (310 miles), and will be fitted with conventional warheads. The missile has reportedly been codenamed, Hyunmoo 4-4. The SLBM is expected to be mass-produced after a round of additional tests.

New Missile to Serve as a Deterrence Tool

The successful launch means South Korea has joined seven other countries — all nuclear-weapon states — in possessing the technology. The United States, China, Russia, France, India, the U.K. and North Korea arm their SLBMs with nuclear warheads, or are believed to do so, reported the Japan Times.

"It will provide the ROK Navy with a stand-off missile capability that can be very effective off the east coast of North Korea," Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow and veteran of the United States Army David Maxwell said, according to Washington Examiner.

South Korean officials have pledged recently to develop weapons "with significantly enhanced destructive power" as North Korean officials are preparing a military parade of their own.

North Korea has long sought to develop SLBM technology. At the start of this year, Pyongyang demonstrated four SLBMs at a military parade headed by Kim Jong Un, with state media KCNA calling them "the world's most powerful weapon".

Will South Korea's Defense Budget Make a Difference to Counter North Korea's Nuclear Capabilities?

Seoul on Monday allocated nearly 1.5 trillion won ($1.3 billion) for defense technology research and development next year in a budget request submitted to parliament, according to AFP.

If approved, it will represent a 76 percent jump in the research budget of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, which will be used to "actively develop cutting-edge, future technologies", according to a press release.

US South Korea military drill
US South Korea military drill Reuters

Thomas Newdick, a defense journalist, says that the country's defense budget proposal calls for weapons "with significantly enhanced destructive power" as part of its response to North Korea's expanding missile capabilities, although it does not make specific mention of SLBMs.

He further says that these weapons are being developed against the backdrop of North Korea's expanding missile arsenal which presents particular risks to ground-based missiles in South Korea.

News of the ejection tests of the SLBM come as the South Korea's military on Tuesday was closely watching North Korea amid signs that the country was preparing to hold a new military parade this week to showcase its growing nuclear and missile capabilities in order to mark the anniversary of the country's founding.