Kim Jong Un supervised tests of new rocket launcher system, North Korea says
South Korea’s military, however, concluded the launches were of two short-range ballistic missiles.
North Korea has said leader Kim Jong Un supervised test firings of a new multiple rocket launcher system that could enhance its ability to strike targets in South Korea and US military bases there.
The report by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) differed from the assessment by South Korea’s military, which concluded Wednesday’s launches were of two short-range ballistic missiles.
The launches from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan were North Korea’s second weapons test in less than a week and were seen as a move to keep up pressure on Washington and Seoul amid a stalemate in nuclear negotiations.
Pyongyang has also expressed anger over planned US-South Korea military drills.
Further analysis is needed to identify the weapons
KCNA said Mr Kim expressed satisfaction over the test firings and said the newly developed rocket system would soon serve a “main role” in his military’s land combat operations and create an “inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon”.
The report did not directly mention the US or South Korea, but experts say the rocket system, along with new short-range missiles the North tested in recent weeks, could pose a serious threat to South Korea’s defence.
The agency provided no specific descriptions of how the “large-calibre multiple launch guided rocket system” performed during the launches, but said the tests confirmed the system’s technical characteristics and “combat effectiveness”.
North Korea’s state media did not immediately release images of the tests.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCF) said on Wednesday that the weapons it then assessed as missiles flew about 250 kilometres (155 miles) at an apogee of 30 kilometres (19 miles), a range that would be enough to cover the metropolitan area surrounding capital Seoul and a major US military base just south of the city.
When asked whether it failed to distinguish between multiple-rocket launchers and ballistic missiles, Kim Joon-rak, an official from the JCS, said the South Korean and US militaries share an assessment that the flight characteristics from the launches were similar to North Korea’s new short-range missiles tested last week.
He said further analysis was needed to identify the weapons.
South Korea’s military had said the flight data of the missile launched last week showed similarities to the Russian-made Iskander, a short-range, nuclear-capable missile that is highly manoeuverable and travels on lower trajectories compared to conventional ballistic weapons.
The UN Security Council is expected to discuss the latest launches behind closed doors on Thursday at the request of the UK, France and Germany, council diplomats said.
Analysts say North Korea with its consecutive weapons tests is demonstrating its displeasure with the pace of nuclear diplomacy with Washington.
Since the collapse of a summit between Kim and Trump in February over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament, the North has significantly slowed diplomatic activity with the South while demanding Seoul to break away from Washington and proceed with joint economic projects that have been held back by US-led sanctions against the North.