North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday attended a test-firing of “long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Sunday, including what appears to be a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM).
The report follows news Saturday morning from the South Korean military that a test of “unidentified and multiple short-range projectiles” had been detected taking place from North Korea’s Hodo peninsula, on the east coast.
The goal of the exercise, state media reported, “was to estimate and inspect the operating ability and the accuracy of striking duty performance of large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons by defence units in the frontline area.”
“Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un learned about the strike plan of the striking means of different calibers and inspected the fire readiness including the advance to and deployment of large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons in fire positions,” it continued.
The leader then praised the Korean People’s Army (KPA) “for its excellent operation of modern large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” state media added, saying the drill had been “organized without an advance notice.”
The test follows a number of smaller-scale drills by the DPRK in April, with the DPRK leader last month reported having overseen the testing of a new “tactical guided weapon” on the 18th.
North Korea chose to keep coverage of that test to a minimum, opting not to publish imagery of the exercise.
Sunday’s coverage, in contrast, sees the North step up the pressure on the U.S. and South Korea with its extensive coverage – and what one expert said appeared to be a new type of missile being tested.
“We see an unidentified short-range ballistic missile system,” Joseph Dempsey, a Research Associate for Defence & Military Analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told NK News.
“A far as we know this has not been tested before, but visually looks similar to a system shown during the February 2018 military parade,” he continued – a reference to a previously unknown SRBM seen at the DPRK’s Army-Building Day parade last year.
“We also see large caliber rocket artillery, believed to include a 300mm guided rocket, believed to have received the U.S. designation “KN-SS-X-9” and classified as a Close-Range Ballistic Missile (CRBM),” he added.
Saturday’s test sparked some confusion among DPRK watchers, however, with South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) being forced to revise an initial claim that a “short-range missile” had been tested.
“It is not uncommon for them to initially describe shorter-range ballistic missiles as projectiles,” Dempsey said. “That a short-range ballistic missile was amongst the rocket artillery may have complicated initial assessments.”
Kim Jong Un was at Saturday’s test accompanied by several top officials, state media reported – including, notably, Kim Jong Sik – a vice department director at the ruling Workers Party of Korea (WPK) who is sanctioned by the U.S. for his prominent role in the DPRK’s missile program.
State media reported he had “stressed the need for all the service members to keep high alert posture… so as to defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance of the country and the gains of revolution and the security of the people from the threats and invasion by any forces.”
“Genuine peace and security are ensured and guaranteed only by powerful strength.”
Ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun on Sunday devoted two full pages to the test, with the third devoted to a concurrent visit by the DPRK leader to the Kumyagang Power Station No. 2.
Saturday’s test, which comes amid a months-long diplomatic impasse between the United States and North Korea in the wake of February’s no-deal Hanoi summit, has been widely interpreted as a response to joint military drills by Washington and Seoul.
April saw North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) warn of a “corresponding response” to the U.S. and ROK’s scaled-back alternative to canceled Max Thunder drills.
In response to Saturday’s test, U.S. President Donald Trump – who has hailed the DPRK’s moratorium on missile testing as a diplomatic victory – in a Tweet said he remained confident that he and Kim could make a deal.
“Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it,” Trump said on social media.
“He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”
South Korea, in turn, said it was “concerned about the North’s latest action.”
“We expect North Korea to actively join efforts towards the fast resumption of denuclearization talks,” a Presidential spokesperson said, warning Pyongyang that the test violated last September’s inter-Korean military agreement.
Additional reporting and editing by Chad O’Carroll
Featured image: KCNA