North tests 'new' tactical guided weapon in show of force
The new weapons system "is of great significance in radically increasing the fire striking power of the long-range artillery units on the front and strengthening the effectiveness of tactical nuclear operation of the DPRK and diversification of the firepower task," said the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in an English-language report. It referred to the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watched the test-firing of a "new-type tactical guided weapon" which "proved successful," according to the KCNA, without elaborating further on the date or type.
Kim "gave important instructions on further strengthening the defense capacity and nuclear combat forces of the country," it added.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said later Sunday that it detected that the North launched two projectiles from its eastern city of Hamhung in South Hamkyong Province into the East Sea around 6 p.m. Saturday. They flew 110 kilometers and reached an apogee of 25 kilometers and a top speed of Mach 4.
The South Korean and U.S. militaries are closely monitoring the North's latest launch, said the JCS.
The JCS said that immediately after North Korea's launch, the South's military and intelligence agencies and the Blue House National Security Office (NSO) held an emergency meeting to evaluate the situation and discuss countermeasures.
"We are tracking North Korea's launch trend in real time with the United States, and we are taking all necessary measures to monitor and maintain a readiness posture," according to the JCS.
The Blue House said it convened a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) Sunday to discuss how to respond to the latest military trends in North Korea.
Suh Hoon, director of the NSO, presided over the meeting attended by the vice ministers of foreign affairs and defense and JCS officials.
Park Kyung-mee, Blue House spokesperson, said President Moon Jae-in received real-time reports on the situation from Suh, and Moon instructed related ministries to "thoroughly manage the situation."
North Korea in the past used the "new-type guided tactical weapon" terminology to describe its KN-23 or KN-24 short-range ballistic missiles, also described as Pyongyang's version of the U.S. Army Tactical Missile System (Atacms).
The missile launched from a transporter erector launchers (TEL) seen in photos released by the KCNA Sunday appeared to be an upgraded variation of KN-23s, according to experts. The new weapons system could be miniaturized KN-23s, North Korea's version of Russia's Iskander-type missiles.
The latest launches come one day after North Korea commemorated the 110th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's founder and grandfather of Kim Jong-un, with large celebratory events and fireworks Friday. There was no military parade or a weapons test that day.
This marked the North's 13th weapons test this year.
On March 24, North Korea tested a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), ending its self-imposed moratorium on longer-range launches and nuclear tests since late 2017, which resulted in a period of détente.
Last week, USS Abraham Lincoln, a U.S. aircraft carrier, and its strike group were deployed in the East Sea for the first time since 2017 and have been operating in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Pyongyang's latest launch comes as Seoul and Washington are set commence their annual springtime combined military exercise on Monday.
The nine-day combined command post training (CCPT) using computer simulation does not include any field troop maneuvers, according to the JCS Sunday, and will "take into consideration all circumstances, such as the Covid-19 situation and the maintenance of the combined defense posture."
The latest drills, which will run through April 28, "will be an opportunity to improve the combined operational performance of South Korean and U.S. soldiers and further solidify the combined defense posture," the JCS added.
Seoul and Washington conducted a four-day crisis management staff training from Friday as preliminary drills.
Pyongyang has traditionally protested Seoul-Washington military exercises, which it views as war rehearsals, and such annual drills have often been times of exacerbated tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
April 25 marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People's Revolutionary Army, which could be an occasion for a military parade, while Yoon Suk-yeol will be inaugurated as South Korea's new president on May 10.
A period of military tensions on the peninsula is expected to continue through next month, with analysts pointing out that North Korea could conduct a seventh nuclear test in the near future.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]