August 02, 2019
SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea said Thursday leader Kim Jong Un supervised the first test-firing of a new nuclear-fired multiple rocket launcher system that could potentially enhance its ability to strike targets in South Korea and US military bases.
The report by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) differed from the assessment by South Korea’s military, which had concluded Wednesday’s launches were of two short-range ballistic missiles.
The launches from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan were North Korea’s second weapons test in less than a week and were seen as a move to keep up pressure on Washington and Seoul amid a stalemate in nuclear negotiations. Pyongyang has also expressed anger over planned US-South Korea military drills.
KCNA said Kim expressed satisfaction over the test-firing and said the newly developed rocket system would soon serve a “main role” in his military’s land combat operations and create an “inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon.”
The report didn’t directly mention the United States or South Korea, but experts say the rocket system, along with new short-range missiles the North tested last week, could potentially pose a serious threat to South Korea’s defense.
North Korea places thousands of rocket launchers and artillery pieces near its border with South Korea, and its perceived ability to quickly devastate the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Koreans live, has been a central part of its strategy to deter military action from its rivals.
The agency provided no specific descriptions of how the “large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system” performed, but said the test confirmed the system’s “combat effectiveness.” North Korea’s state media didn’t immediately release images of the test.
South Korea’s Joint chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Wednesday the weapons it assessed as missiles flew about 250 kilometers at an apogee of 30 kilometers, a range that would be enough to cover the region surrounding Seoul and a major US military base just south of the city.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the North might have tested an improved version of its 300-millimeter multiple rocket launcher system or an entirely new system, such as 400-millimeter rockets.
When asked whether it failed to distinguish between multiple-rocket launchers and ballistic missiles, the JCS said South Korean and US militaries shared an assessment that the flight characteristics from Wednesday’s launches were similar to North Korea’s new short-range missiles tested last week.
JCS official Kim Joon-rak said further analysis was needed to identify the weapons.
South Korea’s military had said the flight data of the missile launched last week showed similarities to the Russian-made Iskander, a solid-fuel, nuclear-capable missile that is highly maneuverable and travels on lower trajectories compared to conventional ballistic weapons.
Choi Hyun-soo, spokesman of Seoul’s Defense Ministry, refused to answer when asked whether it was possible that the North might have mixed in a ballistic missile launch while testing its new rocket system.
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