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North Korea test-launches at least one possible SLBM

North Korea test-launched what appeared to be at least one submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) into the East Sea (also Sea of Japan) on 19 October, marking the first launch of such a missile type since October 2019.

The weapon, which was launched from waters off the eastern port city of Sinpo – where North Korea has a naval base and a naval shipyard –. travelled about 590 km and reached an altitude of about 60 km, the Yonhap News Agency quoted an unnamed South Korean source as saying.

However, the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) noted that not one but two ballistic missiles –presumably SLBMs – were launched by Pyongyang that day. Tokyo said that one of the missiles flew 600 km in an irregular trajectory and reached an altitude of 50 km, but pointed out that it is still analysing the details regarding the second missile launch.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned North Korea's missile launches as “extremely regrettable”, saying that Tokyo is taking appropriate measures to be prepared for “unforeseeable circumstances”.

It is unclear whether the launch(es) took place from a submarine or a submerged test barge. No images have yet emerged, but North Korean state-run media often releases photographs and/or video footage of its weapon tests a day after they take place.

The latest developments come after Pyongyang showcased several examples of two new SLBM types – the Pukguksong-4 and the Pukguksong-5 – in military parades held in October 2020 and January 2021. It also displayed what appeared to be a smaller SLBM type at a defence exhibition held on 11 October in Pyongyang.

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