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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the test launch of a new weapons system that will increase the effectiveness of his tactical nuclear weapons, state media said on Sunday, as celebrations around the country’s founder’s birthday culminated.
On the heels of Kim Il-sung’s 110th birthday, North Korea unveils a new advance in its weapons program with this test launch of a new system. The launch is the latest in an unprecedented series of sanctions-breaking weapons tests this year, including the launch of a full-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last month.
The new tactical guided weapon “is of great importance to radically improve the firepower of long-range artillery units and improve the efficiency of exploiting tactical nuclear weapons,” the official KCNA news agency said. He added that the test was successful, without specifying the exact date or the place where this test shot was made.
South Korean military personnel said they had detected two projectiles, launched on Saturday night. They flew a distance of 110 kilometers at an altitude of 25 kilometers, with a speed of approximately Mach 4. The United States indicated that it was “aware” of North Korea’s statement regarding this test and that they were monitoring the situation, said a Pentagon spokesman.
Photos published by the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a smiling Kim surrounded by uniformed officers and cheering as he watched what was described as the weapon’s test firing. The leader gave the military research team “important instructions to continue building nuclear defense capabilities and fighting forces,” the KCNA news agency added.
short range ballistic missile
Analysts say the weapon is a new short-range ballistic missile, but no less important. “This test of a tactical nuclear delivery device comes amid growing evidence of major reconstruction work at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at Carnegie. Satellite images have shown signs of new activity in a tunnel at the Punggye-ri site, which North Korea says was demolished in 2018 ahead of the first Trump-Kim summit.
On Friday, North Korea celebrated the 110th birthday of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather Kim Il-sung (1912-1994), with a grand public procession, fireworks and synchronized dancing. However, there was no military parade, as many observers had predicted. South Korean and US analysts and officials had also believed a nuclear test on this important anniversary was possible.
The celebrations came three weeks after Pyongyang’s largest ever ICBM test, the first since 2017. At a key party congress in January 2021, Kim Jong-un laid out a five-year plan for the development defense, calling for the development of superior nuclear technology and the manufacture of smaller and lighter nuclear weapons for “more tactical uses”. These comments signal a return to nuclear testing. Kim Jong-un’s presence at a short-range missile launch, the first in more than two years, suggests “special significance,” according to Panda.
Towards a seventh try?
Last month’s test marked the end of a self-imposed moratorium on long-range and nuclear tests, which was lifted after Kim met with then-US President Donald Trump. Officials and analysts say North Korea could conduct its seventh nuclear test in the coming weeks. Satellite images have shown signs of new activity in a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
North Korea has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006 and touted the success of its latest and most powerful in 2017, a hydrogen bomb with an estimated yield of 250 kilotons. With a new nuclear test, experts believe Pyongyang will seek to miniaturize nuclear warheads for mounting on its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
South Korean officials have said Pyongyang could still hold a military parade or weapons test around April 25, the anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army. This anniversary coincides with the joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington, which will begin on Monday. South Korea and the United States regularly hold military exercises, but Pyongyang has regularly protested against these exercises by denouncing preparations for war.