Leader Kim Jong Un has said ‘military muscle’ necessary for self-defence, but repeated weapons tests draw international concern.
North Korea has confirmed it carried out its fourth weapons test this month on Monday, firing two tactical guided missiles – the latest in a series of weapons tests despite a United Nations ban.
The Academy of Defence Science conducted a test of tactical guided missiles from the country’s west, and they “precisely hit an island target” off the east coast, North Korea’s state media, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said on Tuesday.
“The test-fire was aimed to selectively evaluate tactical guided missiles being produced and deployed and to verify the accuracy of the weapon system,” the KCNA said.
“[It] confirmed the accuracy, security and efficiency of the operation of the weapon system under production.”
The launches were detected by both Japan and South Korea, which said the test took place at Pyongyang airport and involved two short-range ballistic missiles.
Earlier this month, the North twice tested what it said were “hypersonic missiles” as well as a railway-mounted ballistic missile.
The tests have drawn international concern, with the United States calling for even tougher sanctions further angering Pyongyang.
After a call with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, the US Special Representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, urged Pyongyang to “cease its unlawful and destabilising activities” and reopen dialogue, saying he was open to meeting “without preconditions”, the State Department said.
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UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also called the North’s tests “increasingly concerning” during a briefing, calling for all parties to return to talks to defuse tension and promote a “very verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.
North Korea is subject to international sanctions over its banned weapons programmes, but began testing a range of new weapons after denuclearisation talks stalled following the collapse of the 2019 summit between leader Kim Jong Un and then US President Donald Trump.
Kim, who took power a decade ago, has sought to modernise the military and says more advanced weapons are necessary for the country’s self defence.
During last week’s test of a hypersonic weapon, state media quoted Kim calling on scientists to step up efforts to develop the North’s “military muscle” despite the devastating economic impact of the border lockdown imposed when the coronavirus pandemic began.
Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University, told the Reuters news agency that the North appeared to have fired KN-24 SRBMs, which were last tested in March 2020 and flew 410 km (255 miles) to a maximum altitude of 50 km (31 miles).
The KN-24 resembles the US MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and is designed to evade missile defences and carry out precision strikes, he said.
“The North seems to have already deployed and begun mass production of the KN-24,” Kim said, referring to the KCNA report.
“But essentially, the test could be another show of force to underline their recent warning of action.”