July 21 (UPI) -- North Korea could be preparing for a test of an updated submarine-launched ballistic missile after one of its submarines was engaged in a rare deployment near the eastern coast of the peninsula.
Writing for 38 North, a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to North Korea issues, analyst Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. states a recent report of a 65-meter-long North Korean submarine traveling 62 miles out into the East Sea, or the Sea of Japan, could indicate a SLBM test could take place in the near future.
"While there are several possible explanations, the most likely is preparations for a test in the near future of an updated Pukguksong-1 [KN-11] submarine-launched ballistic missile or a potentially newer system," Bermudez writes.
According to the analyst, commercial satellite imagery from June 30 shows activity at Sinpo South Shipyard, the area near where the North may have test-launched a ballistic missile in April that ended in failure.
The SINPO-class submarine and a submersible test stand barge have been "repositioned" at the shipyard, a possible sign of preparations for the recent submarine voyage, or perhaps for "an upcoming missile test," Bermudez says.
Any repairs or modifications at the shipyard could also have been completed, which suggests "long-term preparations for a test of the Pukguksong-1, at-sea deployments of one or both craft during late-May, pre-deployment training and routine maintenance or a combination of these" were the reasons for changes.
North Korea has not tested sub-launched missiles since August 2016, and may be far from operational deployment because of the pace of the tests.
"While the test launches of the Pukguksong-2 [from land] are undoubtedly of value to the Pukguksong-1 program, continued testing from a submarine is essential to bring a SLBM into service," the analyst states. "The North will have to conduct additional SLBM tests in the future in order to develop a viable weapon system."