SEUL “North Korea is testing a new type of tactical guided weapon designed to boost its nuclear combat capability, state media reported Sunday, a day before its main rivals the United States and South Korea begin annual military exercises that the North sees as an invasion rehearsal.”
The test, Pyongyang’s 13th round of arms launches this year, came amid fears that North Korea may soon carry out a larger provocation as a nuclear test in an attempt to expand the country’s arsenal of weapons and increase pressure on Washington and Seoul amid troubled diplomacy.
The official Korean Central News Agency reported that leader Kim Jong Un had watched the successful launch of the weapon, which she said. She posted a photo showing a radiant Kim clapping her hands with military officers.
The KCNA said the weapons tested were “of great importance for drastically improving the firepower of long-range front artillery units, increasing the efficiency of tactical nuclear weapons (North Korea) and diversifying their firepower missions.”
The KCNA did not provide details, but the use of the words “tactical nuclear weapons” suggests that the weapon is likely to be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on a battlefield that could hit strategic targets in South Korea, including US military equipment. The KCNA dispatch did not say when or where the launch took place.
“North Korea is trying to deploy not only long-range nuclear missiles aimed at American cities, but also tactical nuclear weapons to threaten Seoul and US bases in Asia,” said Leif-Eric Isley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Pyongyang’s goals probably go beyond deterring and surviving the regime. Just as Russia is using fears that it may be using tactical nuclear weapons, North Korea may want such weapons for political coercion, escalating the battlefield and curbing other countries’ willingness to intervene in the conflict.
Some observers said the weapon shown in North Korean photos suggested it could be a smaller, lighter version of its nuclear-capable KN-23 missile, which has an extremely maneuverable flight aimed at destroying missile defense systems. . Others said it could be a new missile that combines the technical characteristics of the KN-23 and another short-range ballistic missile called the KN-24.
A joint committee of South Korean chiefs of staff said in a statement Sunday that it had detected two launches off the east coast of the northern city of Hamhung early Saturday night.
It says the shells flew about 110 kilometers (68 miles) at an apogee of 25 kilometers (16 miles) and a top speed of Mach 4. The South Korean presidential office said officials had met twice this weekend to discuss North Korea’s military activities.
The South Korean military announced later Sunday that its nine-day spring military exercises with the United States will begin on Monday. It says the Allies have decided to conduct computer-simulated command exercises that do not include on-site training, after reviewing factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Allied combined defense readiness.
The exercises could further increase hostilities on the Korean Peninsula, as North Korea had previously responded with its own weapons tests and fiery rhetoric.
North Korea began this year with a number of weapons tests, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile test capable of reaching the U.S. homeland since 2017. South Korean and U.S. officials said Pyongyang could soon undertake further provocations as another test. ICBM, launching a rocket to launch a spy satellite into orbit or even a nuclear test explosion, which will be the seventh of its kind. The South Korean military says it has found signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear test site, which it partially dismantled weeks before entering dormant nuclear talks with the United States in 2018.
A possible nuclear test from North Korea would include a tactical nuclear warhead, said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang of the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. He predicts that North Korea will insist on mounting a tactical nuclear warhead on weapons tested this weekend and deploying such nuclear missiles near the border with South Korea.
The KCNA dispatch on Sunday quoted Kim as outlining unspecified tasks to build North Korea’s nuclear warfare after praising what he called consistent progress in its efforts to bolster the country’s deterrence force. Recent research in the North has included the sophisticated weapons systems Kim has promised to introduce to deal with what he calls American hostility.
“North Korea has an internal imperative to produce and refine weapons ordered by Kim Jong Un last year, regardless of what the United States does or does not do. The test also tells his people that their country is strong despite their obvious economic difficulties, “said Duyon Kim, a senior analyst at the Washington Center for a New American Security. “One of the reasons for the political moment may be the protest against the expected military exercises of the United States and South Korea.
On Friday, Kim attended a mass civil parade in Pyongyang to mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of his founding grandfather, Kim Il Sung. The country appears to have passed its most important national holiday without a long-awaited military parade to showcase its new weapons systems.
Kim can still hold a military parade on April 25, the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army. But if this anniversary passes again without a military parade, some experts say it could mean that Kim has no new powerful display missiles and that his next provocative move is likely to be a nuclear test.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.
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North Korea is testing new weapons to boost its nuclear capacity
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