By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Sept. 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea could test-fire a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) around the founding anniversary of the Worker' Party next month, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman nominee Won In-choul said Wednesday.
The remark indicates changes in the military's assessment of what is going on in the North because Defense Minister nominee Gen. Suh Wook said Monday that chances for an SLBM launch anytime soon are slim given the short time left until the anniversary that falls on Oct. 10.
There has been speculation that the North could test-fire an SLBM or undertake other weapons provocations on the occasion of the anniversary, which could be a new strategic weapon that leader Kim Jong-un pledged to show off in his New Year's Day message.
"Currently, recovery work from damage by recent typhoons is under way at the Sinpo shipyard. Once completed, (North Korea) could launch an SLBM by using catapulting devices following preparations for a short period of time," Won said in his written answers to questions from lawmakers for his National Assembly confirmation hearing slated for Monday.
North Korea is at the stage of developing and testing a new SLBM, though the regime has not reached the level of mass production or deployment, the nominee said, adding South Korea is closely monitoring related movements.
According to the U.S. monitoring website 38 North, commercial satellite imagery of the North's Sinpo shipyard showed that a submersible test barge was gone, which may signal an impending SLBM test, though no other indicators of launch preparations were observed.
Won, who currently serves as the Air Force Chief of Staff, was nominated as a new JCS chairman last month to replace Gen. Park Han-ki.