North Korea tests new weapons that strengthen nuclear capability
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea has tested a new type of tactically guided weapon designed to increase its nuclear combat capability, state media reported on Sunday, a day before its main rivals, United States and South Korea, began the annual exercises which the North regards as evidence of invasion.
This year’s 13th weapons test came amid concerns that North Korea may soon conduct an even greater provocation. This could include a nuclear test in an effort to expand the country’s arsenal and increase pressure on Washington and Seoul while the denuclearization talks remain stalled.
The official Korean central news agency said leader Kim Jong Un observed what he called the successful launch of the weapon. She released a photo showing a beaming Kim clapping hands with military officers.
KCNA said the weapon tested has “great significance in dramatically improving the firepower of frontline long-range artillery units, improving the efficiency of (North Korean) tactical nuclear weapons operation and diversification. of their firepower missions. “
KCNA did not elaborate, but its use of the words “tactical nuclear atoms” suggested that the weapon is likely capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could hit strategic targets in South Korea, including US military installations. The KCNA dispatch did not say when and 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 Easley, a professor at Ewha University of Seoul.
“Pyongyang’s aims probably outweigh the regime’s deterrence and survival. As Russia employs the fear of being able to use tactical nuclear weapons, North Korea may want such weapons for political coercion, battlefield escalation and limitation of other countries’ willingness to intervene in a conflict, “he said. .
Some observers have said that the weapon shown in North Korea’s photos suggests it may be a smaller, lighter version of its nuclear-capable KN-23 missile that has highly maneuverable flight aimed at defeating missile defense systems. Others have 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.
South Korea’s joint chief of staff said in a statement that it detected two launches from the eastern coastal city of Hamhung in the north on Saturday night.
He said the missiles flew about 110 kilometers (68 miles) at an altitude of 25 kilometers (16 miles) and a maximum speed of Mach 4. South Korea’s presidential office said officials met twice this weekend to discuss North Korean military activities.
The South Korean military said on Sunday that its nine-day spring exercises with the United States would begin on Monday. He said the Allies have decided to hold computer-simulated command post drills that do not involve field training after examining factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the allies’ combined readiness for defense.
The drills could further escalate animosities on the Korean peninsula as North Korea has previously responded with its own weapons tests and fiery rhetoric.
North Korea started this year with a series of weapons tests, including its first flight test of an ICBM capable of reaching the US homeland since 2017. South Korea recently said it has detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels during a nuclear test – Earth was partially dismantled weeks before it entered the now dormant nuclear talks with the United States in 2018.
A possible North Korean nuclear test would involve a tactical nuclear warhead, said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang of the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. He predicted that North Korea would push to mount a tactical nuclear warhead on the weapon. tested this weekend and deploy such nuclear missiles near the South Korean border.
“North Korea has an internal imperative to manufacture and refine the weapons ordered by Kim Jong Un last year, regardless of what the United States does or doesn’t do. The test also tells its people that their country is strong despite their apparent economic hardship, ”said Duyeon Kim, senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “One reason for the political timing may be to protest the planned US-South Korean military exercises.”
On Friday, Kim attended a massive civil parade in Pyongyang that marked the milestone of the state’s founding grandfather Kim Il Sung’s 110th birthday. It seemed the country had passed its most important national holiday without a highly anticipated military parade to showcase its new weapon systems.
Kim could still hold a military parade on the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army on April 25. But should that anniversary be missing again without a military parade, some experts say this could mean that Kim has no powerful new missiles to show and that his next provocative step will likely be a nuclear test.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.