KIM Jong-un is set to unveil new weapons and test-fire a submarine-launched ballistic missile in the coming weeks, according to analysts.
Suspicions have mounted as North Korean troops have been practising for a military parade to celebrate the anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party next month.
Analysts have said that this 75th anniversary may be used to showcase the country's new missiles, for the first time since 2018.
There has also been a new "flurry" of activity at the Sinpo South Shipyard weapons base where submarines are built, according to satellite photos.
The key activity was also seen at a secure basin where a barge used in previous underwater missile launches is docked.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies in the US said the satellite imagery is "suggestive, but not conclusive, of preparations for an upcoming test of a Pukguksong-3 submarine launched ballistic missile from the submersible test stand barge.”
Won In-choul, the nominee for chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "We’re monitoring developments, as there is a possibility that a submarine-launched ballistic missile test will be conducted there using ejection equipment shortly after the repair is done."
FLURRY OF ACTIVITY
Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that reports on North Korea, cited a single unnamed source near the shipyard as saying the site “is bustling with activity to prepare for the ballistic missile launch.”
An American think tank reported that imagery showed “heavy activity” at the shipyard, but that “no other indicators of launch preparations were observed.”
Dave Schmerler, a senior researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that the work being done around the site could just be repairs after North Korea's recent storms.
Won said the North could carry out a submarine-launched ballistic missile test once repairs are complete.
Last October, North Korea said it had successfully test-fired a Pukguksong-3, which caused no major reaction from President Donald Trump.
Experts say old North Korean underwater-launched missile tests were conducted from a submersible barge with a launch tube, not a fully-fledged submarine.
Although North Korea could roll out a new weapons system, there are no indications that the country is looking at “lashing out” ahead of the expected military parade, the commander of US military forces in South Korea said last week.
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North Korea are currently grappling with multiple crises - including the coronavirus pandemic, typhoon damage and tougher US sanctions.
Seoul's unification minister Lee In-young said this week: "I hope that communication channels, including the inter-Korean liaison office, can be restored and we can resume open-minded dialogue at an early date."