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Pyongyang offers Seoul an ‘adequate warning’

Aug 08,2019
이미지뷰
Left: North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, flanked by senior aides, supervised the test launches. Right: KCNA also releases a photo of a missile blasting off. [YONHAP]
Identifying the weapons tested Tuesday as new tactical guided missiles, North Korean state media on Wednesday said leader Kim Jong-un expressed satisfaction with the “adequate warning” given to South Korea and the United States.

As he did with other recent weapons tests, Kim oversaw the test inside a vehicle specially outfitted to observe launches from a safe distance then commended the officials responsible, saying the action would be “an occasion to send an adequate warning to the joint military drill now underway by the U.S. and South Korean authorities,” according to an English language report from the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The report said the two tactical guided missiles were launched Tuesday “across the sky over the capital area and the central inland region of the country to precisely hit the targeted islet in the East Sea of Korea.”

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Tuesday that the weapons fired from near Kwail County, South Hwanghae Province, appeared to be similar to the short-range ballistic missiles Pyongyang fired on July 25, which Seoul and Washington call the KN-23. The two subsequent test rounds, tested on July 31 and Aug. 2, involved rocket artillery, state media said.

The missiles’ flight over the country’s heavily populated capital area ? a region covering Pyongyang and Nampo ? and hundreds of kilometers of inland territory may have been intended to show off the stability of the regime’s newest weapons.

Photographs showed that at least one of the missiles precisely hit a small, unpopulated rocky islet off the coast of Kimchaek, North Hamgyong Province, approximately 450 kilometers (280 feet) away from the launch site.

Such a range would mean the North could reach any target in South Korea with the weapon.

KCNA stressed that “the demonstration fire clearly verified the reliability, security and actual war capacity of the new-type tactical guided weapon system.”

According to Kim Dong-yup, director of research at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in South Korea, Tuesday’s test suggests Pyongyang is in the final stages of development for the KN-23, with tactical deployment only months away.

The KN-23 is believed to be a North Korean variant of the Russian-made 9K720 Iskander missile system, unique in its low-flying trajectory and the ability to perform a pull-up maneuver in the dive phase that makes it harder for antimissile systems to detect and intercept, according to the JCS.

The missiles launched Tuesday flew at a peak altitude of 37 kilometers, much lower than the 50 to 60 kilometers in earlier tests, meaning they could evade interception from the United States’ most advanced defenses like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system, currently deployed in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, around 400 kilometers from Kwail County, which can take down missiles at altitudes of 40 to 150 kilometers. The United States’ PAC-3 batteries deployed in South Korea, more commonly known as Patriot missiles, can intercept projectiles at altitudes up to 25 kilometers.

South Korean military authorities say they can defend the country from the North’s weapons and are taking measures to upgrade and expand the South’s antimissile systems, like the deployment of upgraded versions of PAC-3.

Despite the ostensible progress shown by the North in its weapons development, Seoul is being careful not to escalate the issue lest the North withdraws from dialogue altogether.

In a National Assembly hearing Tuesday afternoon, Chung Eui-yong, chief of the Blue House National Security Office, told lawmakers that the government did not see the North’s tests as a violation of the inter-Korean military agreement signed last September and that Pyongyang itself did not pose a major threat to South Korea.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]