As the date for the upcoming large-scale joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea approaches, North Korea is back at it again with its test-firing of missiles. This time, however, the launch was from a submarine.

At It Again With Its ‘Strategic’ Missiles

On Monday, North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, reported Pyongyang test-fired two nuclear-capable cruise missiles from a submarine Sunday. It noted that the recent test aimed to once again show the country’s defense strength, all while evaluating the reliability of its underwater offensive system, particularly its submarine unit.

Moreover, to demonstrate to hostile forces the nuclear-armed state’s determination to grip control in the region, with KCNA adding, “the US imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces are getting evermore undisguised in their anti-DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) military movements.”

The strategic cruise missile was launched off the “8.24 Yongung,” which means “August 24 Hero,” the largest submarine built for the Korean People’s Navy submarine. It is identified as a Sinpo-class submarine, whose design closely resembles the old Yugoslavic-build Heroj- and Sava-classes. Currently, the 8.24 Yongung is the country’s only known experimental ballistic missile underwater craft, with three or more allegedly planned for construction.

According to KCNA, the test launch occurred in the early hours of March 12 off the east coast of Korea and traveled approximately 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) before striking a target in the sea.

Details reported, however, should be taken with a grain of salt, as Pyongyang may have exaggerated the exact capabilities of its recent nuclear-capable weapon.

Nevertheless, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) spokesperson said that Seoul was immediately on high alert as soon as the report transpired. It has also been working closely with its US allies through its intelligence agency to thoroughly analyze the launch’s specifics and to verify the details Pyongyang claims.

Japan later commented on the North’s recent test-firing provocation, saying that while there was no information that Pyongyang’s missile flew or even remotely passed its waters or caused any damage if the latter claimed “that the missile had a range of more than 1,500 km was true, it would pose threats to the region’s peace and stability – we are concerned,” said Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno via Reuters.

Matsuno reiterated the need for US military deterrence in Asia-Pacific to ensure North Korea’s provocative acts would not escalate into an armed conflict.

In response to the submarine test launch, the US State Department announced that it would increase joint military exercises and further strengthen defense capabilities with the South.

State Department Press Secretary Ned Price told reporters.

“We are aware of the DPRK’s submarine-launched cruise missile tests. As we have said in the context of similar actions, these only serve to heighten tensions in the region,”

Freedom Shield ’23

The largest joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea began just hours after the North’s reported missile launch test. This is the first time the extensive drill has been conducted since 2017.

Dubbed “Freedom Shield,” the drill is scheduled to run for at least ten days and will focus on strengthening the defense cooperation between Washington and Seoul, as well as recalibrating according to the changing security environment due to the growing aggression of Pyongyang in the region. It will also include field exercises such as amphibious landings, which will be a key tactic in the event of a conflict.

North Korea has long opposed joint US-ROK (Republic of Korea) drills, viewing them as a threat and a “declaration of war.” As a result, they have been responding through its nuclear weapons and missile programs, saying that it is ramping up its self-defense capabilities.

Last year alone, as Washington and Seoul gradually improved their combined defensive posture, Pyongyang had alarmingly increased its launch drills to nearly 70 ballistic missiles—justifying it as an effort to ensure nuclear deterrence.

It’s very regretful that North Korea is using our regular, defensive drills as a pretext for provocation,”

So said Koo Byoung-sam, spokesperson for South Korea’s unification ministry handling relations with the North. “I hope North Korea realizes that there is nothing they can earn from escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.”

Many analysts, however, call “bs” on this, pointing out that the hostile latter is simply using the allies’ cooperation as an excuse to continue working on its under-development weapons.

During Monday’s press conference, Price dismissed the argument that North Korea’s increased aggression resulted from the joint exercises, instead stating that the provocation is the reason for the intense drills in the first place.

Unfortunately, the DPRK has put us in a position to have to reinforce, in tangible ways, the security commitment that we have,” Price said.

They have made the security environment in Northeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region all the more dangerous, all the more threatening to our deployed troops, to Americans in the region and, of course, to our key allies in ROK (South Korea),” he added.

Preparing for War

Besides the submarine launch, KCNA also reported Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had approved the war deterrent measures of the country against the South and its Western allies.

According to Yonhap, Kim made the decision at a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s (WPK) Central Military Commission, explaining it as an “important, practical” step toward the “offensive use” of war deterrents.

The meeting discussed and adopted the important practical steps for making more effective, powerful and offensive use of the war deterrent of the country in coping with the present situation in which the war provocations of the US and south Korea are reaching the red-line,” the KCNA said.

The state media did not specify what practical measures Pyongyang would take. However, last week’s “fire assault drill,” which Kim personally inspected, and Sunday’s submarine test launch could be among these approved strategies—ramping its military’s “actual war” readiness.