By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to put into operations a newly unveiled homegrown submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) at sea around the second half of next year, sources said Monday.
Last week, the country unveiled its first homegrown SLBM by announcing the successful test-launch from the 3,000-ton-class Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine. South Korea became the world's seventh nation to have proven field operation capabilities of the system.
"Several more rounds of tests will be conducted to ensure its reliability. After wrapping up development by early next year, we will begin mass production in the first half of 2022. The missiles will likely then be deployed for actual operations starting in the second half," a government source said.
As the country's first 3,000-ton-class submarine, the Dosan Ahn Chang-ho is equipped with six vertical launch tubes. The Navy received the mid-class submarine last month.
Another government source said the military is working to deploy a total of 78 units to nine mid-class submarines, including the Dosan Ahn Chang-ho, in phases in accordance with the country's procurement plan.
South Korea is working on a project to build two more 3,000-ton-class submarines by 2023 and is planning to secure six additional units of a larger class that have up to 10 launch tubes, each, according to officials. Last year, the defense ministry unveiled a plan to develop a 4,000-ton next-generation submarine to boost its underwater capabilities.
The SLBM, believed to be a variant of the country's Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missile, has a maximum flight range of 800 kilometers. During the underwater test last week, the missile reportedly flew around 400 kilometers before striking a target.
It will be equipped with conventional warheads, as South Korea is barred from going nuclear, according to officials. All the six nations that have the SLBM system -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and India -- are all nuclear powers.