North Korea test-fired a new “long-range cruise missile” over the weekend, state media reported yesterday, with the US saying the nuclear-armed nation was threatening its neighbors and beyond.
Pictures in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a missile exiting one of five tubes on a launch vehicle in a ball of flame, and a missile in horizontal flight.
Such a weapon would represent a marked advance in North Korea’s weapons technology, analysts said, better able to avoid defense systems to deliver a warhead across South Korea or Japan — both of them US allies.
Photo: AFP / KCNA VIA KNS
The test launches took place on Saturday and Sunday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The missiles traveled 1,500km on two-hour flight paths — including figure-of-eight patterns — above North Korea and its territorial waters to hit their targets, KCNA said.
Its report called the missile a “strategic weapon of great significance,” adding that the tests were successful and it gave the nation “another effective deterrence means” against “hostile forces.”
North Korea is under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which it says it needs to defend itself against a US invasion, but Pyongyang is not banned from developing cruise missiles, which it has tested previously.
As described, the missile “poses a considerable threat,” said Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University.
“If the North has sufficiently miniaturized a nuclear warhead, it can be loaded onto a cruise missile as well,” Park said. “It’s very likely that there will be more tests for the development of various weapons systems.”
The launch was a response to joint South Korea-US military drills last month, he said.
However, with Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) due to visit Seoul today, Park added: “By choosing cruise missiles, North Korea is trying not to provoke the US and China too much.”
Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies wrote on Twitter that the reported missiles would be capable of delivering a warhead against targets “throughout South Korea and Japan.”
“An intermediate-range land-attack cruise missile is a pretty serious capability for North Korea,” he wrote. “This is another system that is designed to fly under missile defense radars or around them.”
The South Korean military — normally the first source of information on North Korea’s missile tests — had made no announcement of any launches over the weekend.
It said it was analyzing developments, while Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters that a 1,500km-range missile “would pose a threat to the peace and security of Japan and the surrounding region.”
“Japan has significant concerns,” he said.
The US Indo-Pacific Command in a statement said that the reports highlighted North Korea’s “continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.”
It reiterated that the US commitment to defend South Korea — where it has stationed about 28,500 troops to protect it against its neighbor — and Japan “remains ironclad.”
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