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U.S. analyst calls N.K. pursuit of SLBM-based retaliatory strategy 'not viable'

Diplomacy 18:02 October 15, 2019

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. defense analyst on Tuesday dismissed North Korea's possible pursuit of a nuclear retaliatory strike capability using a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) as unviable for now, noting vulnerabilities of its easily traceable underwater platform.

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at RAND Corp., made the case amid concerns that Pyongyang's recent test of a new SLBM could mark a fresh threat to Seoul and Washington, as its submarine could be capable of launching unpredictable, retaliatory strikes.

"The North Korean submarine, which was apparently developed from a Romeo-class submarine, remodeled and refit, is not extremely quiet. So, if they put nuclear weapons on that kind of submarine, it is going to be tracked from the time it leaves port," he said during a lecture on nuclear forces hosted by a local think tank, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

"If conflict develops, it is going to be sitting at the bottom of the ocean and just destroyed. So, that is not a viable strategy to get to a second-strike capability," he added.

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at RAND Corp., speaks during a lecture on nuclear forces at a local think tank, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, in Seoul on Oct. 15, 2019. (Yonhap)

Pyongyang is known to have an assortment of submarines such as 130-ton Yeoneo-class submarines, 300-ton Sangeo-class submarines and 1,800-ton Romeo-class submarines, most of which are seen as outmoded. It has also been seen trying to build larger submarines capable of SLBM operations.

Experts have pointed to the North's push to develop SLBMs as an indication that it is seeking to secure a "second-strike capability" that would enable it to launch a nuclear retaliatory attack after sustaining a "first strike" from an enemy.

But Bennett said it is not viable unless the North ensures the survivability of its launch platform.

"It is not viable not because they can't launch it from an appropriate place," he said. "The problem is getting the submarine to survive."

The scholar accused North Korean leader Kim Jong-un of failing to carry out any denuclearization steps since the Hanoi summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. He claimed that Kim has instead increased the North's nuclear destructive potential by expanding its nuclear production facilities and weapons inventory.

"It is nice he blew up his nuclear weapons test facility. But that is not denuclearization. That is a confidence-building measure," he said. "Denuclearization is reducing the number of nuclear weapons, or you reduce the ability to produce more nuclear weapons."

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