By HYUNG-JIN KIM Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has tested a new type of tactical guided weapon designed to boost its nuclear combat capability, state media reported Sunday, a day before its main rivals the United States and South Korea South, start annual military exercises. that the North sees as an invasion rehearsal.
The test, Pyongyang’s 13th round of weapons launches this year, came amid concerns that North Korea may soon carry out a larger provocation, such as a nuclear test, in an effort to expand the country’s weapons arsenal and increase pressure on Washington and Seoul amid stalled diplomacy.
The official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong watched what he called the successful launch of the weapon. He posted a photo showing a beaming Kim clapping with military officials.
KCNA said the tested weapon has “great significance in drastically improving the firepower of front-line long-range artillery units, improving the efficiency in the operation of (North Korea’s) tactical nuclear weapons and the diversification of their firepower missions.
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KCNA did not elaborate, but the use of the words “tactical nukes” suggested the weapon is likely capable of carrying a battlefield nuclear warhead that could hit strategic targets in South Korea, including US military installations. The KCNA dispatch did not say when and where the launch occurred.
“North Korea is trying to deploy not only long-range nuclear missiles targeting American cities, but also tactical nuclear weapons to threaten Seoul and American bases in Asia,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. . “Pyongyang’s purposes probably go beyond deterrence and regime survival. Just as Russia employs the fear that it might use tactical nuclear weapons, North Korea may want such weapons for political coercion, battlefield escalation, and to limit other countries’ willingness to intervene in a conflict.”
Some observers said the weapon shown in North Korea’s photos suggests it could be a smaller, lighter version of its nuclear-capable KN-23 missile that has highly maneuverable flight intended to defeat missile defense systems. Others said it could be a new missile that combines the technical features of the KN-23 and another short-range ballistic missile called the KN-24.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Sunday that it had detected two projectile launches from the North Korean eastern coastal city of Hamhung on Saturday night.
It said the projectiles flew about 110 kilometers (68 miles) at a peak of 25 kilometers (16 miles) and at a maximum speed of Mach 4. The statement said South Korean and US intelligence authorities are looking at additional details of the pitches. South Korea’s presidential office said officials have met twice this weekend to discuss North Korea’s military activities.
The South Korean military said later on Sunday that its nine-day spring military exercises with the United States will begin on Monday. He said allies decided to hold computer-simulated command post exercises that do not involve field training after reviewing factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and allies’ combined defense readiness.
The exercises could further intensify animosities on the Korean peninsula because North Korea has previously responded with its own weapons tests and fiery rhetoric.
North Korea began this year with a series of weapons tests, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States since 2017. South Korean and US officials said Pyongyang could soon launch additional provocations such as another ICBM test. , a rocket launch to put a spy satellite into orbit or even a nuclear test explosion that would be the seventh of its kind. South Korea’s military said it has detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear test range it partially dismantled weeks before it entered now-dormant nuclear talks with the United States in 2018.
KCNA’s dispatch on Sunday quoted Kim laying out unspecified tasks to develop North Korea’s nuclear fighting forces and defense capability after praising what it called successive progress in his efforts to bolster the country’s war deterrent. . North Korea’s recent testing activity involved the sophisticated weapons systems that Kim promised to introduce to deal with what he calls American hostility.
“North Korea has a domestic imperative to manufacture and perfect the weapons ordered by Kim Jong Un last year, regardless of what the United States does or does not do. The test also tells your people that your country is strong despite its apparent economic difficulties,” said Duyeon Kim, senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “One reason for the political moment could be to protest against the anticipated US and South Korean military exercises.”
On Friday, Kim attended a massive civil parade in Pyongyang marking the milestone 110th anniversary of the birth of his state-founding grandfather, Kim Il Sung. It seemed that the country passed its most important national holiday without a long-awaited military parade to show off its new weapons systems.
Kim may still hold a military parade on April 25, the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean military. But if that anniversary again passes without a military parade, some experts say that could mean Kim has no powerful new missiles to show off and his next provocative move will likely be a nuclear test.
Associated Press reporter Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.
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