Pyongyang launches two projectiles

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Pyongyang launches two projectiles

North Korea on Monday launched two unidentified projectiles from its eastern coast into the East Sea, according to South Korean military authorities.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected two rockets fired from near Wonsan, Kangwon Province, at around 12:37 p.m. Each of the projectiles flew a distance of around 240 kilometers (150 miles) at a peak altitude of 35 kilometers before landing in the East Sea.

A JCS spokesman said the test appeared to involve short-range ballistic missiles fired as part of a joint strike drill North Korea has been conducting since Saturday under the supervision of its leader Kim Jong-un. Kim likely supervised Monday’s test launches as well, according to a military official.

Each of the two projectiles was launched within 20 seconds of one another, the spokesman said.

“Our military is monitoring the situation in case of additional launches and maintaining a readiness posture,” said the JCS spokesman, adding that South Korean and U.S. intelligence were verifying details of the test.

South Korea’s presidential office issued a statement from its National Security Council expressing “grave concern” about the launches and urging Pyongyang to cease all actions that “do not help alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

This is the first time the North test-launched a weapon this year, and 95 days since its last test on Nov. 28, when it fired two projectiles from what it called a “super-large multiple launch rocket system” from near Yonpo, South Hamgyong Province.

In November’s test, the rockets flew a distance of around 380 kilometers with peak altitudes of 97 kilometers before landing in the East Sea, according to the South’s JCS.

North Korea typically announces the results of such tests a day after they are conducted. According to South Korean military analysts, Monday’s test may likely have involved the same multiple rocket launcher the North tested in November based on the similar distance covered in both tests.

State media in November said that test proved the “combat application,” “military and technical superiority” and “firm reliability” of the super-large multiple launch rocket system, developed by the Academy of National Defense Science.

Over the course of 2019, the regime conducted 13 different weapons tests from a variety of locations across its territory. South Korea’s military assessed that most of those tests involved short-range ballistic missiles dubbed by Seoul and Washington as KN-23, believed to be variants of the Russian-made Iskander missile system. These weapons are believed to be key components of the North’s recent drive to modernize its conventional weapons system.

Amid an enduring stalemate in denuclearization negotiations with the United States, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced at a year’s end party meeting in December that the regime would no longer abide to its self-imposed moratorium on long-range ballistic missiles and that it would soon unveil a “new strategic weapon.”

There is still speculation as to what such a weapon is, but many analysts believe it refers to a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), which Pyongyang is believed to have tested at least once from off a sea-based platform near Wonsan on Oct. 2.

Analysts in Seoul say a nuclear-tipped SLBM could effectively give North Korea the ability to strike at targets in the continental United States and render the regime invulnerable to U.S. deterrence systems.

An additional goal, as with all of Pyongyang’s weapons tests last year, may be to compel Washington to yield further concessions like sanctions relief in their nuclear talks. The test notably follows an announcement by South Korea and the United States that they would be postponing their springtime combined military exercise due to the growing coronavirus outbreak in the South.

Some analysts noted the test may also contain a message aimed at a domestic audience.

“[Monday’s test] appears to have been conducted [by the North] to demonstrate to its people a self-defense capacity and to shore up internal solidarity and military morale, in line with the breakthrough policy announced at last year’s plenary session [of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee],” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in South Korea.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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