In a worrying step showing North Korea's rapidly expanding nuclear strike capabilities, the Communist regime recently held a test of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the first time it has launched a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead from underwater.
According to US defense officials cited by the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday, the test took place on April 22 from an underwater test platform near the coastal city of Sinpo in the southeast of the country, and tested what the US is calling a KN-11 missile.
The test appears to have been successful, and is the third KN-11 test showing the high-priority of the nuclear missile program for North Korea. Previous tests in January and last October were from a sea-based platform not underwater and a land-based platform.
The KN-11 joins the KN-08 mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as being part of a varied North Korean missile arsenal on platforms that would be hard for the US to detect, and consequently allow a strike that would be difficult to shoot down.
Admiral Bill Gortney, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and US Northern Command, admitted last month that North Korea could hit the continental US with a nuclear strike. That admission accompanied the announcement that NORAD is reopening its nuclear-EMP-proof Cheyenne Mountain bunker, apparently amid renewed concerns of an EMP attack by which a nuclear weapon would be detonated over the US, knocking out all of its electronic devices, and thereby rendering it defenseless to secondary nuclear strikes.
The latest launch test also comes after Chinese experts warned the US last month that American estimates are wrong and North Korea actually has 20 nuclear weapons, with that arsenal to double next year thanks to the regime's higher than anticipated advanced enrichment capabilities.
Nuclear strikes the US won't see coming
Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of the Strategic Command, confirmed the SLBM launch test in comments to the Senate on March 19, reports the Washington Free Beacon. The program is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
Regarding the UN, it was reported last month that US President Barack Obama hid intel from the UN about North Korea transferring rocket components needed to create a nuclear missile to Iran even during the nuclear talks, to try and prevent the UN from acting on the information with increased sanctions.
Former US Defense Intelligence Agency official Bruce Bechtol, Jr. told the paper that North Korea's SLBM program is meant to give it the ability to strike the US, and to not have the strike be detected in advance.
"With an SLBM they get both," said Bechtol. "The submarine can get the platform to launch the missile within range of the continental United States, Alaska, or Hawaii. Thus, once operational, this immediately brings key nodes in the United States within range of what would likely be a nuclear armed missile."
He noted that once the KN-11 and mobile KN-08 "systems go operational, it potentially gives North Korea a dual threat for attacking the United States with nuclear or chemical weapons - a threat generated from difficult to detect mobile platforms on both land and sea."
Obama is bringing the US to "tragedy"
A number of American officials responded sharply to the KN-11 test, placing the blame squarely on Obama's shoulders.
"This missile, along with the KN-08, happened on Obama’s watch and nothing has been done," one US intelligence official told the Washington Free Beacon.
Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton added his criticism, saying, "by utterly ignoring North Korea’s growing missile threats, Obama has allowed the threat of rogue state proliferators to fall out of the center of the national political debate."
"This is a potential tragedy for the country," Bolton warned.
Air Force Lt. Gen. (ret.) Thomas McInerney said that the KN-08 and KN-11 programs constitute "threats to the continental United States and have been developed under the Obama administration’s leadership."
"Leading from behind is a failed strategy as evidenced by this very dangerous strategic threat to the continental United States of nuclear attack by a very unstable North Korean government," said McInerney.
The general also spoke about Obama's admission that the nuclear deal being formed with Iran will allow it to obtain a nuclear weapon in under 15 years if it doesn't breach conditions and obtain it sooner, noting that the deal "puts the United States in the most dangerous threat of nuclear attack since the height of the Cold War but from multiple threats - North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran."
Opponents of the nuclear deal being formulated with Iran ahead of a June 30 deadline have warned it follows in the footsteps of the failed deal sealed by then-President Bill Clinton with North Korea in 1994.
Despite the deal, North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, just over ten years after the agreement.