SEOUL, South Korea: Described by analysts as a "game-changing" move, South Korea has developed a conventional submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) which will affect its relations with North Korea and the U.S., as well as potentially pave the way for the development of its own nuclear weapons.
The Yonhap news agency reported that tests were carried out last week from a Dosan Ahn Chang-ho KSS-III submarine, as South Korea became the only country to deploy non-nuclear SLBMs.
Analysts said the missiles will reduce South Korea's reliance on the U.S. and potentially enable it to create a nuclear arsenal.
The country's Ministry of Defence declined to confirm the tests, but stressed its keenness to upgrade the country's missile systems to counter North Korea.
South Korea's submarine-launched missile is smaller than the North's SLBMs with nuclear warheads.
However, the South's technology is more advanced, and the combination of an SLBM with the submarine's quiet Air Independent Propulsion system is a potential "game changer," said military submarine specialist H.I. Sutton.
"The SLBM is nominally justified, as it gives South Korean planners a highly survivable conventional second strike option in the face of a North Korean attack," said Ankit Panda, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as quoted by Reuters.
"Should the alliance with the U.S. fray in the future, or South Korea's national defenses need to drastically shift, these SLBMs could be an immediately available foundation for a limited nuclear force," he added.
The U.S. removed its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, but has continued to protect its ally under a "nuclear umbrella."
However, the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea has been in turmoil in recent years, especially after former President Donald Trump demanded Seoul pay more for America's military presence and even suggested South Korea and Japan may need to develop their own nuclear weapons.
Last month, presidential candidate Yoo Seung-min stated, "It is unrealistic to prevent us from our own nuclear armament when North Korea has not given up its nuclear weapons."
"The loser here is the entire region, in the throes of a multi-sided missile race," said researcher Joshua Pollack from the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies, according to Reuters.
However, other countries are not likely to follow South Korea's example, stressed a Western diplomatic source.