North Korea tested a new type of tactical guided weapon designed to increase its nuclear combat capabilitystate media reported on Sunday, a day before its main rivals, the United States and South Korea, begin annual military exercises that the North considers an invasion rehearsal.
The test, the 13th round of weapons launches by Pyongyang this year, came amid concerns that North Korea may soon carry out a larger provocation such as a nuclear test in an effort to expand the weapons arsenal. of the country and increase pressure on Washington and Seoul amid stalled diplomacy.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said leader Kim Jong watched what he called the successful launch of the weapon. He posted a photo showing a beaming Kim clapping with military officials.
KCNA said the tested weapon has “great significance in dramatically improving the firepower of front-line long-range artillery units, improving the efficiency in the operation of (North Korea’s) tactical nuclear weapons, and diversifying their firepower missions.
KCNA did not elaborate, but the use of the words “tactical nukes” suggested that the gun it is likely capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on the battlefield that could hit strategic targets in South Korea, including US military installations. KCNA dispatch did not say when and where the launch occurred.
“North Korea is trying to deploy not only long-range nuclear missiles targeting American cities, but also tactical nuclear weapons to threaten Seoul and American bases in Asia,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. . “Pyongyang’s purposes likely exceed deterrence and regime survival. Just as Russia employs the fear that it may use tactical nuclear weapons, North Korea may want such weapons for political coercion, battlefield escalation, and to limit other countries’ willingness to intervene in a conflict.”
Some observers said the weapon shown in North Korean photos suggested that it could be a smaller, lighter version of its nuclear-capable KN-23 missile that has highly maneuverable flight intended to defeat missile defense systems. Others said it could be a new missile that combines the technical features of the KN-23 and another short-range ballistic missile called the KN-24.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Sunday that it had detected two projectile launches from the eastern North coastal city of Hamhung on Saturday night.
He said the projectiles flew some 110 kilometers (68 miles) at a peak of 25 kilometers (16 miles) and at a top speed of Mach 4. South Korea’s presidential office said officials have met twice this weekend. to discuss North Korea’s military activities.
The South Korean military said later on Sunday that its nine-day spring military exercises with the United States will begin on Monday. He said allies decided to hold computer-simulated command post exercises that don’t involve field training after reviewing factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and allies’ combined defense readiness.
The exercises could further intensify animosities on the Korean peninsula because North Korea has previously responded with its own weapons tests and fiery rhetoric.
North Korea has started this year with a series of weapons tests, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US homeland since 2017. South Korean and US officials said Pyongyang could soon launch additional provocations such as another ICBM test, a rocket launch to launch a spy satellite into orbit or even a nuclear test explosion that would be the seventh of its kind. South Korea’s military said it has detected signs North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear test range it partially dismantled weeks before entering now-dormant nuclear talks with the United States in 2018.
A possible nuclear test by North Korea would involve a tactical nuclear warhead, said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the Sejong Private Institute in South Korea. He predicted that North Korea would push to mount a tactical nuclear warhead on the proven weapon this weekend and deploy such nuclear missiles near the border with South Korea.
KCNA’s dispatch on Sunday quoted Kim laying out unspecified tasks to build up North Korea’s nuclear fighting forces after praising what he called successive progress in his efforts to bolster the country’s war deterrent. The North’s recent test activity involved the sophisticated weapons systems that Kim has promised to introduce to deal with what he calls American hostility.
“North Korea has an internal imperative to manufacture and perfect the weapons ordered by Kim Jong Un last year, regardless of what the United States does or does not do. The test also tells your people that your country is strong despite its apparent economic difficulties,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “One reason for the political moment could be to protest the anticipated military exercises between the United States and South Korea.”
On Friday, Kim attended a massive civil parade in Pyongyang marking the milestone 110th anniversary of the birth of his state-founding grandfather, Kim Il Sung. It seemed that the country passed its most important national holiday without a long-awaited military parade to show off its new weapons systems.
Kim may still hold a military parade on the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean military on April 25. But if that anniversary again passes without a military parade, some experts say that could mean Kim has no powerful new missiles to show for it and his next provocative move is likely to be a nuclear test.
(with information from AP)
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