There has been alot of discussion as to whether the newest Korean missile launch, a clear violation of the UN orders, was a true success or another failure. I am sorry to say, it might be far more of a success then anyone wants to know.
First of all lets note that this is a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile that would have an expected range of only some 1,400 miles. I say that since so many of the nay sayers would give this missile the same range as our Trident D-5, some 4600 Nmiles. I would expect their first SLBM would have the same range as our initial Polaris A-1. That being said some history on Polaris.
The Polaris program was a reaction to Sputnik more than anything else. There had been work on such a weapon for a few years, but after Sputnik the issue was how to get a viable weapon fielded as soon as possible. In this, the initial vehicle with a range of 1,700 miles and its purpose built boats (the Ethan Allen class) would take some time to build. To speed up the process some reductions in performance were approved.
First of all, the test missiles didn't have full fuel loads. The first "pop-up" missiles tested off San Clemente island only had enough fuel to show the vehicle could exit the water, ignite and then show proper flight control. Unlike the first image in this post that shows an out of control Trident D-5 missile (yes thats one of ours).
Once you have a repeatable ejection system with engine ignition you can then start extending range to full. That now being stated, once you have the ejection system repeatable you can then start designing it into a submarine. You can either start making a ship like the Ethan Allen, or you can do what we did to make the George Washington.
The Washington started as a Skipjack class attack submarine. We simply cut the submarine in two and inserted 16 missiles in between. Its why the George Washington class subs always have this raised missile tube area. They were slower and depth limited compared to the Ethan Allen class, but they put the missiles into service sooner. And that was all that counted.
Of course there is still another way to add a missile tube to a submarine. The Russians first Missile submarine, the Golf class, had the missile tubes mounted in the conning tower or sail. These submarines could launch missiles of a range equal to a SCUD, which the N. Koreans have a lot of experience with. They were also Diesel Electric. Thus the N. Koreans could have all the components for a working SLBM system quite soon. The only thing they are now missing is a decent Navigation system for the launching submarine to allow launch while submerged.
James N. Gibson
Published Author, Degreed Engineer and amateur Military Historian.