(ATTN: ADDS more comments, background info in pars 6-11, 16, 19)
SEOUL, Jan. 15 (Yonhap) -- North Korea showcased yet another new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in just three months during a recent military parade, experts said Friday.
During the parade held on Thursday night at Kim Il-sung square in Pyongyang, the North rolled out SLBMs on transporter erector launchers (TEL), which it labeled as the Pukguksong-5ㅅ, along with a new short-range ballistic missile and various other kinds of weaponry.
The Korean letter "ㅅ" appears to indicate that it is a sea-based system.
"The world's most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missile, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces," the North's Korean Central Korean News Agency (KCNA) said on Friday.
The new missile looks longer than the Pukguksong-4ㅅ SLBM, which was first unveiled during a military parade in October last year.
Experts say the newest one appears to be designed to fly longer and fit for larger-sized warheads.
"North Korea is working to develop two kinds of SLBMs at the same time. Chances are that Pukguksong-4 is expected to be equipped with its 3,000-ton-class submarine, while Pukguksong-5 could be for a 4,000-ton one or larger," Lee Choon-geun, a senior research fellow at the Science and Technology Policy Institute, said.
North Korea has been building a new submarine believed to be a 3,000-ton one capable of carrying three SLBMs. It is also believed to have been developing a larger-sized submarine, which could be a nuclear-powered one.
North Korea was known to have three types of Pukguksong missiles.
As the upgraded version of the Pukguksong-1, the Pukguksong-3 SLBM is believed to have a flight range of 2,000 kilometers or longer, and the regime last carried out a flight test of the weapon in October 2019. Pukguksong-2 is a ground-based one, not an SLBM.
The two latest derivatives have not been tested, according to experts.
The parade, which was overseen by leader Kim Jong-un, took place two days after the North wrapped up its eight-day congress of the ruling Workers' Party. During the congress, Kim said that his country is developing new weapons systems, such as a nuclear-powered submarine, advanced warheads and hypersonic weapons, pledging to bolster its nuclear arsenal.
North Korea also displayed a new short-range ballistic missile during the parade, believed to be an upgraded version of its KN-23 missile, which resembles Russia's Iskander, according to the experts.
Compared to the original version, the new one has a conical warhead and the TEL added one more axle to five. Eyes are on whether it could carry nuclear warheads, as leader Kim ordered during the congress that nuclear weapons be made "small, lighter and tactical."
The North's Iskander is known to have a flight range of 400 to 600 kilometers and mainly targets South Korea. Rather than following a general parabolic trajectory, the missile shows a more complicated path by doing a so-called pull-up maneuver over the course of its flight.
"The upgraded missile appears longer and can fly farther, to around 1,000 km," said expert Ryu Sung-yeop from the Korea Research Institute of Military Affairs.
The KN-23 was first unveiled in 2019 and test-launched four times that year.
North Korea has released several new types of short-range solid-fuel missiles in recent years amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States. It last conducted a major weapons test in April 2020.
"Many of those new items have not been tested and are believed to be in the stage of development, so I doubt if they are capable and can be fully fielded," a military officer in Seoul said.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it is analyzing military items displayed during the recent parade.
But the North stopped short of displaying intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) during the military event -- in an apparent message to the United States ahead of next week's launch of a new government in Washington.
During the October event, the North showed off a new ICBM on an 11-axle TEL, which is believed to be the largest of its kind in the world.
But it is not known yet if the new ICBM is the upgraded version of the Hwasong-15 or Hwasong-16, with military sources and experts saying the weapon looks like a mock-up and has not been tested.
According to the U.S. Forces Korea, the regime has three types of ICBM: the Hwasong-13, which can fly as far as 5,500 km; the Hwasong-14 missile with an estimated range of 10,058 km, which is capable of reaching most of the continental U.S.; and the Hwasong-15 with an estimated range of 8,000 miles, or 12,874 kilometers, which is capable of striking any part of the U.S. mainland.
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