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North Korea is proving its nuclear prowess with land and sea missiles

North Korea's nuclear prowess has come a long way.

Following the 2006 detonation of a small plutonium-fueled device, Pyongyang's first-ever test, the rogue nation now boasts land and sea-based missile systems that have curbed doubts over its technological capabilities.

People watch a television news showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on April 5, 2017. Nuclear-armed North Korea fired a ballistic missile on April 5, just ahead of a highly-anticipated China-US summit at which Pyongyang's weapons program is set to top the agenda.
JUNG YEON-JE / AFP / Getty Images

"The development of these two classes of missiles represents a major development in North Korea's strategic power," the Lowy Institute said in a Thursday note.

Wednesday's launch of a Scud-ER ballistic missile from the port city of Sinpo, home to a North Korean submarine base, indicated an evolution of weapons fired from land and sea, according to the Australian think tank.

There were key similarities between Wednesday's land-based missile and the submarine-launched missile known as the Pukguksong-1 or KN-15 that was test fired last August, the note said. Both were cold-launched using gas pressure from cylindrical containers, both ignited their solid motors after leaving their containers and both used the same design for their rocket stages.

In light of this resemblance, Wednesday's launch could be "a test of elements of the submarine launched missile from a land-based silo, or a test of systems common to both missiles."

Because Wednesday's missile only traveled 60 kilometers horizontally, U.S. officials deemed the launch a failure, but the Lowy Institute suggested otherwise.

"The missile reached an altitude of 189 kilometers, well into outer space. This would seem to be a test of an alternative trajectory, which exposes the missile to different conditions. Re-entry testing could have been conducted on this flight."

Will China deliver concrete action on NKorea?
Will China deliver concrete action on NKorea?

The advent of mobile land and sea-based missile systems bring several benefits to Pyongyang.

For one, missiles will be harder to detect and target, according to Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation. That could increase the regime's risk to its adversaries, namely Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

By simultaneously launching multiple missiles from the field, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un can reduce the viability of allied preemptive attacks, launch surprise attacks, engage in coercive diplomacy and have a second-strike capability, Klingner said in a recent commentary.

Moreover, "Pyongyang's success of solid-fuel engine tests and launches means less time is necessary for a launch, thus constraining warning time," he continued.

Land and sea missiles were two of four strategic goals that North Korea adopted following the death of former leader Kim Jong-il in 2011. A dual-use space program and solid-fuel rocket technology were the other two, Lorenzo Mariani, researcher at Istituto Affari Internazionali, an Italian non-profit, wrote in a report last month.