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Top Blue House official dismisses threat from North

Experts note timing of launch was likely a message to Washington
Nov 02,2019
이미지뷰
A projectile mounted on a super-large multiple rocket launcher is fired from North Korea’s western region toward the East Sea on Thursday in a photo released by the North’s KCNA on Friday. [YONHAP]
A top Blue House official dismissed concerns Friday that the advancing strike capabilities of North Korea pose a threat to the South’s national security, following Pyongyang’s announcement earlier in the day of the successful test of a new, improved multiple rocket launcher system.

Following reports from North Korean state media, including the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), that the country’s Academy of National Defense Science succeeded in “another test-fire of super-large multiple rocket launchers” on Thursday, National Security Director Chung Eui-yong dismissed the concerns that the North’s expanding strike capabilities are a menacing threat to the South.

“I don’t think the missile capabilities the North is developing now are a grave threat to our national security,” Chung said Friday during a National Assembly audit at the Blue House.

Chung said he believes the South’s defense budget is far larger than that of the North. “Our missile capabilities are far more superior to that of the North in terms of quality and quantity,” Chung said, adding that the South is also conducting missile tests as often as the North.

He also said the South’s missile defense and interception capabilities are far more advanced than those of the North and they will be further reinforced. “We are also working to introduce various new weapons systems to counter the changes of the future security environment,” Chung said.

Asked if the North’s short-range projectile launches are against the inter-Korean military agreement of Sept. 19, 2018, Chung said, “The government doesn’t see them as violations.” He also said the United Nations Security Council has also deferred its conclusions.

According to the KCNA, the latest test was intended to verify the security of launchers’ continuous fire system. It said the North verified its capability to “totally destroy” target areas by “surprise strike of the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launchers.”

A multiple rocket launcher is a weapons system that fires multiple, unguided rockets from a mobile launcher. A photo released by the North showed that the system had four launching tubes.

The North has been steadily upgrading its multiple rocket launcher technology since developing a 300-millimeter caliber system with a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles) in the early 2010s. It has continued tests to further advance the caliber and range of the system.

The military authorities of South Korea and the United States concluded that the rockets fired on Thursday flew 370 kilometers, a distance which indicates that the entirety of South Korea is effectively under the rocket’s range, as the distance from the military demarcation line to Busan is about 390 kilometers.

The North also significantly reduced the firing interval. When it tested the same system in August and September, the firing interval was 17 minutes and 19 minutes respectively. In Thursday’s test, two rockets were fired with an interval of three minutes.

Military experts, however, said the system needs further improvements. “The interval must be within 30 seconds for effective simultaneous, multiple firings,” said Ryu Sung-yeop, a researcher at the Korea Research Institute for Military Affairs. “When caliber is enlarged, vibration after firing is also greater, making the interval inevitably wide.”

South Korean military sources also said the North will likely conduct more tests to improve the system.

Since May this year, the North has conducted 12 launches of projectiles. According to the South Korean military, the latest launch was the third test of “super-large multiple rocket launchers.” The first one took place on Aug. 24 and the second on Sept. 10.

This year’s 12 launches indicate that the North is putting forth efforts to complete four new short-range weapons systems. Since May, the North tested KN-23 missiles reminiscent of the Russian-made Iskander system; large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system; a new surface-to-surface tactical missile system similar to the U.S. Army’s tactical missiles system, also known as Atacms; and super-large multiple rocket launchers.

The KCNA said Friday that the super-large multiple rocket launchers will be the core weapon of the North Korean military to remove all threatening moves of the enemy, along with other newly developed tactical guided weapons.

North Korea experts paid special attention to the timing of the North’s latest launch, saying it was a message to Washington. In his speech in April, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he will show patience until the end of this year to wait for a bold decision from the United States.

“As the deadline it set for negotiations is approaching, the North is using multi-dimensional tactics. Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye-gwan and Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party, recently issued threatening statements,” said Jin Hee-gwan, a professor of unification studies at Inje University. “The latest weapons test was to increase the pressure just before the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to formally conduct the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump and ahead of the Security Consultative Meeting between Seoul and Washington later this month.”

So far, Trump has promoted the North’s suspension of tests of nuclear weapons and inter-continental ballistic missiles as a key accomplishment, but Kim is warning that he can ruin it anytime, according to Jin.

BY SER MYO-JA, LEE KEUN-PYUNG AND JEONG YONG-SOO [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]