In footage published on Sunday by North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun, leader Kim Jong-un smiles and applauds as he watches a test-fire of what the paper called a “new tactical weapon.”
The projectiles were fired from North Korea’s Hamhung region around 6:00 pm, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The projectiles traveled about 110 kilometers (about 68.3 miles) at an altitude of 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) with a top speed of Mach 4.0 or less, the statement said.
On Sunday, North Korean state media KCNA reported that Kim Jong-un oversaw test firing of “a new type of tactical guided weapon” that “has been successfully carried out.”
The KCNA said the new weapon strengthened the country’s “forward long-range artillery units” and increased efficiency “when dealing with[North Korea’s]tactical nuclear warheads and diversifying their fire missions.”
Immediately after the launch, the South Korean military, intelligence agencies and the National Security Administration held an emergency meeting to assess the situation and discuss countermeasures, according to a statement by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is receiving real-time reports from the National Security Administration and has ordered relevant government ministries to check North Korea’s movements, Moon’s spokeswoman Park Kyung-mi said on Sunday.
“We are aware of North Korea’s claim that they have tested a long-range artillery system. We are reviewing all actions in close coordination with our allies and partners,” a U.S. Department of Defense spokesman said in a statement. The US is “very clear about its commitment to the defense of (South Korea), Japan and the US homeland.”
Dooyeon Kim, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said North Korea has sought to build missiles that can evade defense systems with “features that can fly under the radar of the US and South Korea.”
“These types of missiles are especially dangerous for South Korea and Japan, and these are weapons that can be used in conflict or even provoke it,” she said.
Ankit Panda, Stanton Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added that this was the first time North Korea had “specifically attributed a role as a tactical nuclear weapon to a missile during testing.”
North Korea has ramped up its missile tests this year, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on March 24, in defiance of international law.
In total, the North conducted 12 tests in the first four months of 2022; in comparison, there were only four tests in 2020 and eight in 2021.
Dooyeon Kim said that the tests could have several purposes: one of them is to tell the North Korean people that “their country is strong despite the obvious economic difficulties.”
According to her, North Korea also has “an internal need to produce and improve the types of advanced weapons that Kim Jong-un ordered last year.” This year is important for the country due to several important dates, including the 10th anniversary of Kim Jong-un’s rule and the 110th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il Sung, one of the most important events in the North Korean calendar.
Lee Sang-hyun, president of the South Korean think tank Sejong Institute, said there could be pressure on Kim “to showcase his accomplishments.” Many of these important dates fall in April, providing an opportunity to “boast to the world of your country’s missile and nuclear capabilities.”
Another reason for the recent tests could be a protest against joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises due this month, experts say.
North Korea has long denounced these joint exercises as a serious threat to its security, accusing the US of a “hostile policy” towards the country.