South Korea’s development of a conventional submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) is a groundbreaking move, analysts said, with implications for North Korea, South Korea’s alliance with the United States and even the prospect of nuclear weapons in South Korea.
In September 2021, South Korea conducted ejection tests of the SLBM from its recently launched Dosan Ahn Chang-ho KSS-III submarine, showcasing a unique capability, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. It is the only nation to field such weapons without nuclear warheads.
Seoul said the conventionally armed missile is designed to help counter any attack by North Korea. Analysts said the weapon also checks many other boxes for South Korea, including providing a foundation if it decides to pursue a nuclear arsenal.
South Korea’s sub-launched missile, believed to be a variant of the country’s ground-based Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missile, with a flight range of about 500 kilometers, is smaller than the nuclear-tipped SLBMs developed by the North.
H.I. Sutton, a specialist in military submarines, said the South’s technology is more advanced, however, and called the combination of an SLBM with the submarine’s quiet air-independent propulsion system a potential “game changer.” “In these respects, it is the most potent conventionally powered and armed submarine in the world,” he wrote in a report for Naval News.
The SLBM is one of a range of conventional missiles that South Korea is developing to augment its Overwhelming Response doctrine, said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The doctrine is an operational plan for strikes to preempt a North Korean attack or incapacitate its leadership in a major conflict.
The U.S. removed its battlefield nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 but continues to protect its ally under a “nuclear umbrella.” Reuters