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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
North Korea successfully completed another missile test on Thursday, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced early Friday morning, declaring the “perfection” of one of its newest weapons systems.
The North’s confirmation of the launch — and claims of its success — came hours after the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported that it had detected two projectiles fired into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, on Thursday afternoon.
The new weapon, described by KCNA as a “super-large multiple rocket-launcher” system known formally as a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), was first tested in August.
“The perfection of the continuous fire system was verified through the test-fire to totally destroy with super-power the group target of the enemy and designated target area by surprise strike of the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launchers,” KCNA reported in an English-language dispatch.
“The combat performance and the perfection of the actual war capacity of the one and only and our style super-large multiple rocket launcher was proved through examining the security of launchers’ continuous fire system,” a Korean-language version of the article added.
“The super-large multiple rocket launchers will become the core weapon of the Korean People’s Army, along with tactical guided weapons which are newly-developed recently, to contain and eliminate all threatening movements of an enemy.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was not reported to have attended the launch, but “expressed satisfaction” over what was reported to him about it by the North’s Academy of Defence Science, which oversaw the test, according to KCNA.
Kim, KCNA said, “sent congratulations to the national defence scientists who are devotedly struggling for developing the self-defensive military muscle of the country and bolstering up its armed forces.”
According to Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, Kim’s reported absence from the launch — the second time in recent months that he was not reported to have been present at a missile test — is significant.
“I think it’s quite notable to have a second instance of Kim sitting out personal guidance of the launch,” Panda told NK News.
“To my eye, this is less about a concern with appearances with regard to negotiations, but more to do with normalizing launch activities as many other missile powers do,” he said.
Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said that beyond Kim’s alleged absence from the launch site, it was “extremely unusual” that coverage of the test was relegated to the second page of DPRK party daily the Rodong Sinmun.
“The most striking aspect of today’s report is that it was carried on page two and not on the front page of the party daily, which is extremely unusual, if not unprecedented,” she said.
“It remains to be seen whether the unusual page-two placement, and the lack of a reference to Kim Jong Un’s presence at the test site, will be the new norm for North Korean state media,” she said.
“There are several possible explanations for this behavior, but it does not appear to signal an effort to play down the weapon test.”
The choice of article replacing the missile launch on the front page was likely meant to send a message of its own, Lee continued.
“An unusual ‘special article’ on the daily’s front page, which is where the weapon test report almost certainly would have been published in the past, reiterated that ‘the best way to adhere to and glorify socialism in today’s world’ is to ‘possess invincible military power,'” she pointed out.
“This is consistent with state media’s increased emphasis on self-reliance and hardening line on the outside world since Kim Jong Un’s climb up to Mt. Paektu in mid-October.”
According to South Korea’s JCS, the projectiles flew a maximum of 370km at an altitude of 90km, and were detected at 1635 and 1638 local time on Thursday.
They were launched from the DPRK’s South Pyongan Province, an area near Pyongyang, where the North also tested the same MLRS weapon last month.
The missile test was the first conducted since diplomats from the U.S. and DPRK met in Stockholm and attempted to reach a deal over sanctions relief and the future of the North’s nuclear program.
Those negotiations ended without a deal and with contradicting narratives coming from each government about what had gone wrong, which side deserved the blame, and whether they would meet again.
On Thursday, a State Department spokesperson told NK News that the U.S. is “aware of reports of a North Korean missile launch.”
“We are continuing to monitor the situation and consulting closely with our allies in Japan and South Korea,” the spokesperson said.
Thursday’s missile launches were the twelfth by the DPRK this year.
Dagyum Ji contributed translation
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun