The submarine-based missile launch, which defence ministry officials said “accurately hit the target”, came just hours after North Korea fired twin ballistic missiles off its east coast, raising concerns in Japan and South Korea and highlighting the simmering nuclear threats in the region.
With this successful missile launch, South Korea has become the first country without nuclear weapons to develop such a system, joining the ranks of the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and India with its home-grown technology.
Officials confirmed that South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in had attended the underwater launch of the missile onboard the new 3,000-tonne class Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine, which was commissioned last month.
The domestic-built missile is expected to help South Korea deter potential external threats, a statement released from Mr Jae-in’s office said.
The statement said that the new weapon “is expected to play a key role in building self-defence capability and peace on the Korean peninsula”.
It added that the military had developed other new missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile as well as a new ballistic missile that has “overwhelming counterattack capability” to fire a larger warhead.
The South Korean military also carried out a successful test of a solid fuel propulsion system that can be used in space vehicles, the statement read.
According to experts, firing missiles and making announcements relating to new high-profile weapons are not par for the course for South Korea, as such actions could provoke North Korea unnecessarily. Launching the new missile is a response by South Korea to criticism that it is too soft on its neighbour, as it continues to pursue better relations with the country, observers say.
Japan and South Korea both condemned the launch of ballistic missiles on Wednesday morning by North Korea, and noted that it directly violated the United Nations resolutions banning the country from any ballistic missile activities. Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga called the missile launch “outrageous” and condemned the act as a threat to the region.
The test came just days after North Korea announced it had twice tested a newly developed cruise missile over the weekend, describing it as a “strategic weapon of great significance”. The missile is capable of hitting targets 1,500km away, which covers all of Japan and some US military installations.