About the Author
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic missile launch exercise by the Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), commissioned with a test strike against the U.S. military base in Japan, state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Tuesday.
North Korea launched a salvo of four missiles towards the Sea of Japan (known in Korea as the East Sea) on Monday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed on Monday.
Three landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with the missiles flying around 1,000 kilometers before splashing down within Japan’s EEZ, some 250 km west of the Akita Prefecture, according to Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
The “ballistic rocket launching drill” was staged with the purpose of inspecting the “process of handling nuclear warheads” and the “capabilities of Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force to carry out a military operation swiftly.”
“Involved in the drill were Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in contingency,” KCNA said in an English dispatch.
North Korean state media has not yet provided details on the type of missiles that were launched, but preliminary images, released by ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun, suggest the missiles are a new variant of the Scud-ER.
South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) confirmed on Tuesday morning (KST) that North Korea had launched a variant of Scud missiles.
“Our military assessed that the ballistic missiles that North Korea launched yesterday was a variant of Scud missile, and we are keeping close tabs on the North’s preparation for additional missile launches and the possibility of provocation,” Roh Jae-cheon, head of public affairs for South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) told reporters on Tuesday during a regular news briefing.
This is North Korea’s first test of such a missile since September last year.
“We can see in photos that the missiles are Scuds variants,” said John Grisafi, NK News Director of Intelligence. “Combined with the roughly 1,000 km distance they flew, this tells us North Korea has improved the range of their extended range (ER) Scud missiles.”
“Pyongyang is continuing to not only improve missile capabilities, but is also building and maintaining a diverse arsenal of different types of missiles. This gives them wider ranging capabilities and increases unpredictability.”
“The four ballistic rockets launched simultaneously are so accurate that they look like an acrobatic flying corps,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
“It is a great pride of the Party and state, army and people to have… the KPA Strategic Force equipped with Korean-style powerful ballistic rockets and Juche-based fire strike methods,” Kim said at the site of the military drill.
The Strategic Force of the KPA vowed to blow up the U.S. and South Korea if they “spark a single flame to the territory where the DPRK exercises autonomy.”
“All soldiers of the KPA Strategic Army solidify their determination to raze the base of the invasion and provocation to the ground and make them impossible to survive by using the unbeatable Hwasong artillery equipped with nuclear warheads…,” KCNA said in a Korean dispatch.
In an apparent protest against ongoing joint military drills between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the U.S., the North said the ballistic missile drills were conducted with the “desire to mercilessly retaliate against the warmongers by carrying out a concentrated strike” as the “South Korean and the U.S. warmongers are staging nuclear war drill frantically.”
The South and the U.S. are planning to hold the joint military exercise Key Resolve, which South Korea’s military claims is one of the largest ever, this month.
Approximately 17,000 U.S. forces participated with ROK forces in the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle training exercises in March 2016. Foal Eagle training began on the first of the March.
“He (Kim Jong Un) ordered the KPA Strategic Force to keep highly alert as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out anytime and get fully ready to promptly move, take positions and strike so that it can open fire to annihilate the enemies once the Party Central Committee issues an order,” KCNA, said quoting Kim.
Kim suggested scientists and technicians in the nuclear weapon and rocket research fields, as well as leading officials of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) should “round off the Juche-based rocket striking methods” and “continuously develop Korean-style ultra-precision and intellectually promoted rockets.”
KCNA said that General Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), also attended the ballistic missile launch exercise.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said Kim was making his first public appearance in about six months.
Seoul’s JCS said on Monday that North Korea fired four projectiles from near the Tongchang-ri region in North Pyongan Province into the waters off its east coast, but added that there are slight differences between the timing of the launches.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch of four ballistic missiles and held a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council (NSC) on Monday.
“Japan lodged a strong protest against North Korea. Today’s launches of ballistic missiles clearly represent a new threat from North Korea,” Abe told reporters.
South Korea’s JCS added the four projectiles traveled around 1,000km on average, reaching a maximum altitude of around 260km.
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun