North Korea is building a larger-class submarine for further developing the ballistic missile capacity by 2020.
North Korea is constructing a new bigger class of submarine than the existing Sinpo-class, and the new project seems to have been started several years ago, Joseph Bermudez, co-founder and chief analytic officer of AllSource Analysis, said at a briefing organized by 38 North.
His assessment is in line with outlooks from other North Korean observers who speculated that North Korea is seeking a bigger sub that can enhance its SLBM capability. Yonhap News Agency reported Wednesday.
The Sinpos are comparatively small submarines with a displacement of about 2,000 tons. They are known to have vertical ballistic missile launch tubes built into the sail of the submarine.
On Wednesday, North Korea launched an SLBM from the East Sea, the country's third SLBM test-fire this year. The missile flew some 500 kilometers before landing in waters within Japan's air defense identification zone. The launch demonstrated an improvement from its previous launch tests.
Bermudez said, the latest missile appears to have been fired underwater from a submarine, rather than from a submersible test barge, which he said may have been the case for the North's SLBM test last December.
If North Korea achieves its long-term plan to build an operational SLBM system, it would complicate ballistic missile defense planning and operations being sought by South Korea and the U.S, he cautioned.
Assuming the current rate of development, North Korea is on track to develop the capability to strike targets in the region, including Japan, from a missile fired from a submarine by 2020, he noted.
Citing 38 North's satellite imagery taken on Monday near a submarine base near the eastern port city of Sinpo, the analyst said North Korea seems to have made preparations for the Wednesday SLBM launch that day.
The satellite image showed a large construction crane placed close to a submarine moored along a submarine dock.