North Korea tests new weapon boosting its nuclear capability | Government and politics


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 do not begin annual military exercises. which the North regards as a rehearsal of an invasion.

The test, the 13th round of weapons launches by Pyongyang this year, came amid fears North Korea could soon carry out a bigger provocation, such as a nuclear test, in a bid to expand the country’s arsenal of weapons and to increase pressure on Washington and Seoul amid stalled diplomacy.

The official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong observed what he called the successful launch of the weapon. He posted a photo showing a beaming Kim clapping his hands with military officers.

KCNA said the tested weapon has “great significance for significantly improving the firepower of front-line long-range artillery units, improving the operating efficiency of (North Korea’s) tactical nuclear weapons and diversify their firepower missions”.

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KCNA did not elaborate, but the use of the words “tactical nuclear” suggested the weapon is likely capable of carrying a nuclear warhead across the battlefield that could strike strategic targets in South Korea, including US military installations. The KCNA dispatch did not specify when or where the launch took place.

“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 university professor Leif-Eric Easley. Ewha from Seoul. “Pyongyang’s goals probably go beyond deterrence and regime survival. Just as Russia fears using tactical nuclear weapons, North Korea may want such weapons for political coercion, battlefield escalation, and limiting other countries’ willingness to intervene in a conflict.

Some observers said the weapon shown in North Korean photos suggested it could be a smaller, lighter version of its KN-23 nuclear-capable missile which has highly maneuverable flight aimed at defeating missile defense systems. Others said it could be a new missile combining the technical characteristics of the KN-23 and another short-range ballistic missile called KN-24.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Sunday that it detected two rounds of projectile fire from the North eastern coastal town of Hamhung early Saturday evening.

He said the projectiles traveled about 110 kilometers (68 miles) at an apogee of 25 kilometers (16 miles) and at a top speed of Mach 4. South Korea’s presidential office said officials met twice this weekend to discuss North Korean military activities.

South Korea’s military said later on Sunday that its nine-day spring military exercises with the United States would begin on Monday. He said the allies had decided to hold computer-simulated command post exercises that did not involve field training after considering factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and readiness. of the combined defense of the allies.

The drills could further heighten animosities on the Korean Peninsula, as North Korea has already responded with its own weapons tests and heated 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 US territory since 2017. South Korean and US officials said that Pyongyang could soon launch additional provocations like 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 detected signs that North Korea was rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground it partially dismantled weeks before entering now-dormant nuclear talks with states United in 2018.

A possible nuclear test by North Korea would involve a tactical nuclear warhead, said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang of the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. He predicted that North Korea would push to mount a tactical nuclear warhead on the weapon being tested over the weekend and to deploy such nuclear missiles near the border with South Korea.

Sunday’s KCNA dispatch cited Kim as presenting unspecified tasks to bolster North Korea’s nuclear fighting forces after hailing what it called successive progress in its efforts to build war deterrence. from the country. The North’s recent testing activity has involved the sophisticated weapons systems that Kim has pledged to introduce to deal with what he calls US hostility.

“North Korea has a national 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 its people that their country is strong despite its apparent economic difficulties,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. South Korea.”

On Friday, Kim attended a massive civil parade in Pyongyang that marked the 110th birth anniversary of his state’s founding grandfather, Kim Il Sung. It looks like the country has passed its most important national holiday without a much-anticipated military parade to showcase its new weapon systems.

Kim could still hold a military parade on April 25, the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army. But if the anniversary goes by again without a military parade, some experts say that could mean Kim has no powerful new missiles to display and his provocative next step is likely to be a nuclear test.

Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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