North brags of ‘significant’ weapon test
The development of the new weapon system was an “event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army,” read the state-run Rodong Sinmun’s English report on the test, which attributed the system’s development to the Academy of Defense Science.
Several military analysts in South Korea said it could be a variation of a short-range ballistic missile launcher imported from Russia called the 9K720 Iskander, which North Korea displayed at a military parade in Pyongyang last February.
The only description of the weapon itself in the Rodong Sinmun report was that its “design indexes” had “advantages … appreciated for the peculiar mode of guiding flight,” indicating that it was outfitted with a type of guidance system. The test involved “various modes of firing at different targets” that verified “the load of a powerful warhead,” the report added.
The Iskandar system is known to be able to carry two guided missiles fitted with warheads with a range of 500 kilometers (310 miles) and a guidance system with homing capacities that may fit the description provided in the state media report.
But U.S. Department of Defense officials cited by CNN said no missile launch had been detected by either the U.S. Northern Command or Strategic Command, both of which monitor strategic threats across the globe.
Kim’s decision to supervise a weapons test that falls short of a full-blown missile launch could be an attempt to demonstrate to the United States his frustration with deadlocked negotiations over denuclearization without jeopardizing the process.
U.S. President Donald Trump mentioned before his last summit with Kim in Vietnam in late February that he was “happy” with the current talks with Pyongyang “as long as there’s no testing.”
When that meeting collapsed, the North began to reassemble a missile launch pad on its western coast, prompting Trump to say he would be “pretty disappointed” if a launch took place.
The weapon tested on Wednesday may not have been detectable from the United States, but the announcement has underscored that Kim could resume nuclear development at any time if he so chooses.
The Rodong Sinmun report added that Kim, after watching the test, praised the country’s scientists and munitions workers for “increasing the country’s defence capabilities” and said that “there is no weapon impossible to make when they are determined to do.”
Kim pulled a similar move last November, when he supervised an “ultramodern tactical weapon test” by the same defense institute, which he called a “decisive turn in bolstering the fighting capability of the Korean People’s Army,” according to a state-run Korean Central News Agency report.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, at the time, cautiously said the “ultramodern” weapon was likely to be a conventional one - perhaps a long-range artillery piece like a multiple rocket launcher - that did not appear to be in violation of Pyongyang’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and missile testing.
The Academy of Defense Science is known to be behind the successful development of the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in 2017. Both ICBMs are believed to have ranges capable of reaching continental North America, and serve as key elements in Pyongyang’s strategy of deterrence against the United States.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]