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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday guided the test-launch of a new weapon which has “superior tactical character” compared to existing weapons systems, the country’s state media reported on Sunday.
Scientists in the field of national defense science and workers in the field of the munitions industry “completed another new weapons system and made a proud report to the Party Central Committee,” Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and the party daily Rodong Sinmun reported in a Korean-language report.
North Korean media notably said the party recently “proposed direction for research and development” of the new weapons system.
“After receiving a report on the development of the new weapon,” the Korean-language dispatch read, Kim Jong Un “gave an instruction to proceed with a test immediately.”
The North Korean leader on Saturday inspected the new weapon at the launch site and “guided the test-fire of the new weapon,” viewing from the observation post.
Kim said the “new weapon was developed to suit the terrain condition of our country, and, required by the Juche-oriented war methods, has superior tactical character which is different from the existing weapon systems,” according to the report.
Kim notably personally explained the party’s proposal for the development of the new weapons system while guiding the test-fire.
The North Korean leader “explained the strategic and tactical plan of the Party Central Committee which suggested to task the field of national defense science with developing the weapon system.”
North Korean state media also said the “detailed analysis of the outcome of the test-fire proved that the new weapon system’s superior and powerful design requirements were perfectly realized.”
“After seeing the result of the test-fire of the new weapon transmitted to the display at the observation post, the Supreme Leader Comrade expressed great satisfaction, being very pleased that another new weapon envisioned by the Party has come out.”
There is nothing North Korean scientists in the field of national defense science and workers in the field of the munitions industry cannot achieve when the party makes an instruction, Kim said.
The DPRK leader said they “can precisely see through the strategic idea and intention of the Party Central Committee and implement them better than any others,” adding they are “very grateful comrades who always relieve [the leader’s] heavy burden and let him forget about difficulties and hardships.”
North Korean media released several photos of the new weapon, with experts telling NK News it appears to be a new short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) resembling the U.S. Army’s Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).
Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said the missile “bears a strong resemblance to the American ATACMS tactical ballistic missile.”
“This is a brand new ballistic missile type, never before seen in North Korea. The apogee and range data provided by ROK JCS suggest it performs similarly to the KN23.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) on Saturday said the North launched two projectiles — believed to be the SRBMs — toward the eastern coast at 05:34 and 05:50 local time in the vicinity of Hamhung city in South Hamgyong province.
The missiles flew around 400 km at an apogee of 48 km, the statement added, continuing that the “maximum speed was 6.1 Mach or more” — a similar distance to those fired on Tuesday.
“I had suspected that a launch from Hamhung might indicate a new solid fuel system, since that’s where North Korea manufactures these types of missiles largely,” Panda said.
Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, also said the missile “resembles the US ATACMS missile and seems to have generally similar characteristics, but with longer range.”
“This is reminiscent of the unveiling of the KN-23, which is similar to the Russian Iskander-M, but with longer range,” he said, adding this is a “new short-range missile” based on the 400 km range briefed by the ROK JCS.
Pollack also said he was “struck by a couple of things in the statement.”
“First, they did not take the occasion to explain themselves, as they have done recently. A barrage of foreign ministry missives have already done the work of justifying these activities.”
Rachel Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News’s sister site NK Pro, said the North’s showcase of “various ‘new’ weapons” for the past few weeks is “in line with what the foreign finistry and Kim Jong Un said about developing, testing, and deploying new weapons.”
“The report’s references to the party’s defense science strategy and the munitions industry’s ability to implement it seems to imply that more weapons are in the works or already have been developed,” Lee said.
“The North could reveal some more new weapons during the remainder of the U.S.-ROK joint military drills, especially since it has been confirmed that the drills will cover Pyongyang stabilization operations, to which the North is known to be particularly sensitive.”
It is noteworthy that North Korean media did not criticize either South Korea or the U.S. in the report on Saturday’s test-launch, given that full-scale joint military drills aimed at verifying the initial operational capability (IOC) for the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) began on Sunday.
But one expert suggested the message might be clear enough, saying the new system seen on Saturday — as well as Pyongyang’s new Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) — would likely pose serious new challenges to allied defenses in South Korea.
“The whole combination of them: MLRS, KN-23, and this together are a nightmare for missile defenses,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told NK News.
“Unclear whether the warhead separates or stays on the body like in KN-23,” he continued. “Separating warheads can be harder for missile defenses too, and depending on the volume and throw weight may have implications for what type of warhead this can carry too, though this is all speculation right now.”
“North Korean missile development over the past year clearly prioritized complicating, saturating, and defeating regional missile defenses, among other things like, you know, mass production. Looks like they’ve succeeded.”
North Korean media in Wednesday coverage of the country’s previous missile test explicitly said the test-launch of “new type tactical guided missiles” should serve as a “warning” against the joint military drills conducted by South Korea and the U.S.
Kim also guided a “power demonstration fire of a new-type tactical guided weapon” on July 25 — a test described as a “solemn warning” to Seoul.
“Kim’s praise for his rocket scientists and defense industry is quite lavish and extensive even by his standards. He says nothing about the military,” Pollack said.
“Once again, we see who he is crediting for the defense of the country, and it’s not the men in uniform, but rather the technical specialists…”
North Korean state media on Sunday reported that Kim Jong Un said scientists in the field of national defense science and workers in the munitions industry are “steadily consolidating the defense capability of the country while faithfully following the Party’s strategy for developing the defense industry.”
Kim stated that their “heroic and patriotic feats will be recorded forever along with the history of the struggle of the party.”
The leader was accompanied by the leading officials of the Party Central Committee and in the field of national defense, including Ri Pyong Chol, Yu Jin, Kim Jong Sik, Jang Chang Ha, Jon Il Ho, and Jong Sung Il.
Edited by Colin Zwirko
Featured Image: KCNA