Associated Press August 25, 2016
PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea marked its “Military First” holiday on Thursday with mass dancing, outdoor concerts and boasts of a successful — and potentially game-changing — submarine-launched ballistic missile test that it hopes will serve as a warning to Washington and Seoul to stop holding joint military exercises that Pyongyang sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion.
Television news broadcasts and the front pages of morning newspapers Thursday showed images of the launch, conducted in the early hours the day before. The test sent a Pukguksong missile soaring from a submerged position off the North’s port city of Sinpo. It flew an estimated 500 kilometers (310 miles) toward the seas around Japan, the longest distance it has yet achieved in a submarine launch.
Kim was shown smiling and hugging officials after watching the test from an observation deck. He was quoted by state media as calling it the “success of all successes,” though it brought immediate condemnation from the United States and the North’s neighbors.
Launching long-range ballistic missiles from submarines is stealthier than land launching. Having that capability could significantly strengthen Pyongyang’s ability to conduct strikes on US positions in South Korea, and possibly on US bases in Japan as well.
The North has attempted two such launches before, but neither was seen as successful by outside experts.
As the news of the missile test was broadcast on a large screen outside Pyongyang’s main train station Thursday, dozens of people stood in the rain to watch.
“This shows that our national defense strength has reached a new level,” said Choe Kum Chol, a 42-year-old factory worker. “We are a nuclear power and everything is ready, so we have nothing to fear.”
The test came as the US and South Korea are conducting their annual, 12-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises south of the Demilitarized Zone.
Though the North has protested such exercises for decades, prompting regular spikes in tensions on the divided peninsula, Pyongyang has been particularly alarmed by reports that the maneuvers have recently started to include training for an invasion of the North and precision strikes, or “beheading operations,” against its top leaders.
North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development programs have brought heavy international sanctions down on its head, but it says they are justified because of the threat posed by the US and South Korea.