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Leo Byrne is the Data and Analytic Director at NK News and is based in Seoul, South Korea.Follow him on twitter @LeoPByrne
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday oversaw a test of a new “tactical guided weapon,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday.
In a move which came just a day after a visit by the North Korean leader oversaw military drills by the country’s air and anti-aircraft force, Kim was reported to have “supervised and guided” the latest test, which took place at the Academy of Defence Science.
“Looking round the new-type tactical guided weapon, Kim Jong Un was told by officials concerned of the Academy of Defence Science about the formation of the weapon system and its operation mode,” the article reads.
“The design indexes of the tactical guided weapon whose advantages are appreciated for the peculiar mode of guiding flight and the load of a powerful warhead were perfectly verified at the test-fire conducted in various modes of firing at different targets.”
The KCNA article did not give further details on what weapon was tested, though noted the “system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army.”
Neither the KCNA nor ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun carried imagery of yesterday’s event.
“(Kim Jong Un) set the phased and strategic goals for keeping munitions production going on and putting national defence science and technology on cutting edge level and indicated detailed tasks and ways to attain them,” the article added.
The move is the first of its kind since last November, when Kim Jong Un was reported to have inspected the testing of a similarly-ambiguous new “ultramodern tactical weapon.”
“The state-of-the art weapon that has been long developed under the leadership of our party’s dynamic leadership has a meaning of completely safeguarding our territory and significantly improving the combat power of our people’s army,” the report by the KCNA said,” that November report read.
But it is also North Korea’s first such test since February’s failed summit between North Korea and the U.S. in Hanoi, and comes amid growing speculation that the DPRK leader may meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next week and a prolonged deadlock between Pyongyang and Washington over the DPRK’s denuclearization and sanctions relief.
“It was almost inevitable that the North Koreans would send some signal,” Stephan Haggard, director of the Korea-Pacific Program at IR/PS, told NK News.
“But it was also highly likely that it would be calibrated to fall below the line of posing serious concerns or disrupting the prospects for continued talks. The extent of coverage of this—Fox News alerts and all—is disproportionate to its significance.”
One expert tied the test to last month’s comments by DPRK vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui hinting at skepticism among the country’s military toward the DPRK-U.S. rapprochement.
“It suggests to me that this may have been to demonstrate internally that despite talks with the U.S., Kim is no slouch on maintaining a strong defensive capability,” Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and an international security analyst, told NK News.
But Panda also linked it to recent complaints by the DPRK leader about last month’s joint U.S.-South Korean Dong Maeng exercises “and the recent March missile defense test conducted by the U.S.”
“In November, we had a similar tactical weapon test after the U.S. and South Korea resumed the suspended Korea Marine Exchange Program drills,” he said.
A U.S. State Department official in an email to NK News said they were “aware of the report, and have no further comment,” while the U.S. Department of Defense said no missile launch had been detected by the U.S. Northern Command and Strategic Command.
The DPRK leader was on Wednesday reported to have hailed the “great work” of our “our national defence scientists and workers in the field of the munitions industry” and given them further instructions.
“He set the phased and strategic goals for keeping munitions production going on and putting national defence science and technology on cutting edge level and indicated detailed tasks and ways to attain them.”
Kim’s specific appeals to the munitions industry and military are notable, and his on-site visit on Wednesday saw him praise the army for its “readiness.”
An official with ties to the country’s powerful munition industry was also promoted last week: Ri Man Gon, a former director of the military’s Munitions Industry Department, was elected to the ruling party’s politburo and Central Military Commission last Wednesday.
Ri was not reported to have accompanied the leader at yesterday’s test, however, with state media saying he was joined by party officials Kim Phyong Hae, O Su Yong, Jo Yong Won, Ri Pyong Chol, and Kim Jong Sik.
He was also accompanied by “other senior officials of the Party Central Committee and commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army,” state media said, as well as “Kim Su Gil, Ri Yong Gil, No Kwang Chol, Pak Jong Chon and Pak Kwang Ju.”
Featured image: KCNA