Pyongyang: North Korea on Friday said it tested cruise missiles fitted with new ‘super-large’ warheads along with a new type of anti-aircraft missile, as part of its war preparedness that has worried its neighbour South Korea and the United States of a possible nuclear conflict. This came a day after the South Korean military detected the North launching multiple cruise missiles into waters off its western coast, the fourth launch this year.
North Korean photos of the test showed a low-flying cruise missile striking a target built on a coastal shore, and another projectile soaring into the air after being launched from the ground. These missiles are likely armed with nuclear weapons as Pyongyang announced the development of larger warheads. However, North Korea’s state-run media did not specify the number of missiles tested.
The Korean Central News Agency said the tests were part of the country’s “normal activities” for military development and did not affect the security of neighbours. However, the four launches of cruise missiles are a strong indicator of North Korea’s war preparedness against ‘US-led confrontations’.
Last month, North Korea conducted two tests of a new cruise missile designed to be launched from submarines, which leader Kim Jong Un described as a step toward his goal of building a nuclear-armed navy. The North also conducted tests of a long-range cruise missile, which it has described as nuclear-capable and can cover ranges of up to 2,000 km, potentially putting US military bases in Japan within reach.
North Korea’s cruise missiles
Cruise missiles are among a growing collection of North Korean weapons designed to overwhelm regional missile defenses. They supplement the country’s vast lineup of ballistic missiles, including long-range weapons aimed at the continental US. Analysts say anti-aircraft missile technology is an area where North Korea could benefit from its deepening military cooperation with Russia, as both countries have separate confrontations with the US.
While North Korean cruise missile activities aren’t directly banned under UN sanctions, experts say those weapons potentially pose a serious threat to South Korea and Japan. They are designed to be harder to detect by radar, and North Korea claims they are nuclear-capable and their range is up to 2,000 kilometres, a distance that would include US military bases in Japan. Since 2021, North Korea has conducted at least 10 rounds of tests of what it described as long-range cruise missiles fired from both land and sea.
Those cruise missile tests followed the January 14 launch of a new solid-fuel intermediate-range missile, which underscored North Korean efforts to advance weapons that could target US assets in the Pacific, including the military hub of Guam.
Tensions in the Korean peninsula
Tensions in the region have increased in recent months as North Korea’s leader Kim-Jong-Un continues to accelerate his weapons development and make provocative threats of nuclear conflict with the United States and its Asian allies. In response, the US, South Korea and Japan have been expanding their combined military exercises, which Kim condemns as invasion rehearsals and uses as a pretext to further ramp up his military demonstrations.
Friday’s launches came hours after North Korean state media reported that Kim reiterated his focus on strengthening his naval forces as he inspected the construction of warships at a shipyard in Nampho on the west coast. There are concerns that Kim could dial up pressure in an election year in the United States and South Korea.
South Korean experts and officials say Kim’s weapons drive has put further strain on a broken economy, decimated by decades of mismanagement and US-led sanctions over his nuclear ambitions. Kim has declared a departure from the long-standing goal of peaceful unification with South Korea, further instructing a revision of the North’s constitution to designate the South as its most hostile foreign adversary. Accusing South Korea of being “top-class stooges” of the Americans, Kim reiterated the threat to use nuclear weapons to annihilate the South in response to any provocation.
(with AP inputs)