A day after two North Korean missile launches rattled Asia, the nation announced on Friday that its leader Kim Jong Un supervised a test of a new-type tactical guided weapon that was meant to be a “solemn warning” about South Korean weapons introduction and its rival’s plans to hold military exercises with the United States.
The message in the country’s state media quoted Kim and was directed at “South Korean military warmongers.”
It comes as US and North Korean officials struggle to set up talks after a recent meeting on the Korean border between Kim and President Donald Trump seemed to provide a step forward in stalled nuclear negotiations.
Although the North had harsh words for South Korea, the statement stayed away from the kind of belligerent attacks on the United States that have marked past announcements, a possible signal that it’s interested in keeping diplomacy alive.
It made clear, however, that North Korea is infuriated over Seoul’s purchase of US-made high-tech fighter jets and US-South Korean plans to hold military drills this summer that the North says are rehearsals for an invasion and proof of the allies’ hostility to Pyongyang.
After watching the weapons’ launches, Kim said they are “hard to intercept” because of the “low-altitude gliding and leaping flight orbit of the tactical guided missile,” according to the Korean Central News Agency. He was quoted as saying the possession of “such a state-of-the-art weaponry system” is of “huge eventful significance” in bolstering his country’s armed forces and guaranteeing national security.
South Korean officials said Thursday the weapons North Korea fired were a new type of a short-range ballistic missile and that a detailed analysis is necessary to find out more about the missiles. But many civilian experts say the weapons are likely a North Korean version of the Russian-made Iskander, a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile that has been in the Russian arsenal for more than a decade.
That missile is designed to fly at a flattened-out altitude of around 40 kilometers and make in-flight guidance adjustments. Both capabilities exploit weaknesses in the US and South Korean missile defenses that are now in place, primarily Patriot missile batteries and the THAAD anti-missile defense system.
The Iskander is also quicker to launch and harder to destroy on the ground, because of its solid fuel engine. It advanced guidance system also makes it more accurate.
The launches were the first known weapons tests by North Korea in more than two months.