DPRK leader Kim Jong Un on Friday supervised what state media described as a “perfect” test of a new North Korean weapon, the country’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported early Saturday morning.
In coverage that follows reports from South Korea’s military Friday morning that Pyongyang had launched two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) from Tongchon, Kangwon province, state media said the test had served to “cement bigger confidence in this weapon system.”
“Juche shells were fired in the presence of the Supreme Leader,” KCNA reported.
State media coverage was light on technical details on the purportedly-new weapon, though imagery published appears to suggest the rockets launched on Friday were the same seen during a test last Saturday.
That weapon was described by analysts last week as bearing a strong resemblance “both in missile and launcher” to the United States’s MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).
“It appears to be outwardly the same system that we saw tested on 10 August,” Joseph Dempsey, a Research Associate for Defence & Military Analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told NK News on Saturday.
“The difference is the change in testing parameters for the second pair of launches,” he continued. “While the first pair reportedly flew some 400km off the East Coast with an apogee of 48km demonstrating a flattened/depressed trajectory, the latest pair flew only 230km with a reduced apogee of 30km.”
Saturday’s coverage, Dempsey said, also “implied a high level of accuracy” compared to previous short-range ballistic systems currently in North Korean service.
“This is just the latest of three new short range (<500km) systems to be revealed since North Korea resumed missile tests in May 2019,” he said.
“These self-proclaimed ‘tactical’ systems all demonstrating similar improvements in accuracy with their low … trajectory represent also potential new challenge for opposing radars and missile defense systems.”
Friday’s launch was Pyongyang’s sixth since July 25, seeing the North continue a pattern of regular testing not seen since 2017.
Recent weeks have concurrently seen North Korea repeatedly emphasize the importance of its “national defense science” industry, with Kim Jong Un on Tuesday reported to have promoted 103 scientists for their achievements in the field.
North Korean media on Saturday, too, focused much of its coverage on Kim’s praise for these scientists, who were reported to have developed the new weapon “in the shortest span of time” and to have shown “mysterious and amazing success rates.”
This style of coverage, one expert said, was “very much a continuation of the trend or glorifying the scientists at the expense of the military.”
“The military isn’t even mentioned. The new generals are the scientists,” Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told NK News.
One of the recently-promoted scientists was seen alongside Kim Jong Un at Friday’s test.
Jon Il Ho, who was granted the title of three-star colonel-general and serves as director of the Kim Chaek University of Technology Automation Research Institute, was not named but can be seen in KCNA imagery.
Friday’s test, Kim Jong Un said, “vividly proved that the material and technological foundations for the national defense industry are being perfected at a high level.”
But it also served to send a message to North Korea’s enemies, the coverage continued, and were part of the ruling party’s broader plans to strengthen the country’s defenses.
“Everyone should remember that it is the Party’s core plan and fixed will for defence building to possess such a powerful force strong enough to discourage any forces from daring to provoke us,” Kim Jong Un said.
“…and to leave all others vulnerable to our Juche weapons of absolute power even though there comes the situation where physical strengths clash with each other.”
Saturday’s statement did not name either the U.S. or South Korea in its coverage of the test — a noteworthy omission given ongoing joint drills taking place on the peninsula.
Pyongyang may also believe its point has already been made: a statement from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) released just an hour or so before Friday’s test slammed South Korea’s decision not to call off those drills and ruled out renewing inter-Korean dialogue anytime soon.
“[North Korea’s] discussion of the deterrence policy is almost identical to previous comments about the role of nuclear weapons,” the Middlebury Institute’s Joshua Pollack said.
“This may continue for awhile – at least until the allies announce the end of their combined exercise.”
And while South Korea yesterday urged the North to stop its regular testing, the response from the U.S. has been decidedly muted.
U.S. President Donald Trump — whose administration has for the last few weeks insisted that working-level talks with North Korea are set to begin soon — has repeatedly stressed that the testing does not violate Kim Jong Un’s commitments under last year’s Singapore agreement.
“I say it again,” Trump said last Saturday. “There have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short-ranged — no ballistic missile tests. No long-range missiles.”
The North Korean leader has even reportedly apologized to Trump for the regular testing, recently sending a letter to the U.S. President in which he promised the launches would end once joint drills on the peninsula come to a close.
“In a letter to me sent by Kim Jong Un, he stated, very nicely, that he would like to meet and start negotiations as soon as the joint U.S./South Korea joint exercise are over,” the President tweeted last week. “It was a long letter, much of it complaining about the ridiculous and expensive exercises.”
“It was…also a small apology for testing the short range missiles, and that this testing would stop when the exercises end.”
Featured image: KCNA