North Korea says it successfully launched ballistic missiles from a train for the first time and continued to beef up its defenses, after the two Koreas fired test missiles hours apart in dueling displays of military power.
Wednesday’s launches underscored a return of tensions between rivals amid a prolonged stalemate in US-led talks aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons program.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the missiles were fired during a drill by a “railway missile regiment” that transported the weapons system along train tracks in the country’s mountainous central region and struck with precision a maritime target 800 kilometers away.
State media showed what appeared to be two different missiles firing from railroad car launchers engulfed in orange flames along tracks surrounded by dense forest.
A rail-based ballistic system reflects North Korea’s efforts to diversify its launch options, which now include various land launch vehicles and platforms and may eventually include submarines. Firing a missile from a train could add mobility, but some experts say that North Korea’s simple rail networks running through its relatively small territory would be quickly destroyed by enemies during a crisis.
“Our military assesses that North Korea is continually developing various mobile launch teams,” said Colonel Kim Jun-rak, spokesman for South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff. He said the armies of South Korea and the United States were continuing to scrutinize North Korean launches.
The armies of South Korea and Japan previously said that North Korea’s two short-range ballistic missiles landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone but outside its territorial waters. The last time a North Korean missile landed within that area was in October 2019.
Pak Jong Chon, a senior North Korean official who has been seen as influential in the country’s missile development, said Wednesday’s tests were carried out successfully in accordance with the “strategic and tactical design and intent” of the ruling Party of the Workers of the North.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised at a party congress in January to strengthen his nuclear deterrence in the face of US-led sanctions and pressure, issuing a long list of wishes for sophisticated weaponry, including longer-range ICBMs, nuclear powered. submarines, spy satellites and tactical nuclear weapons.
In another weapons show over the weekend, North Korea said it tested new cruise missiles, which it intends to do with nuclear capability, that can hit targets 1,500 km away, a distance that puts all of them within reach. the military installations of Japan and the United States.
Hours after North Korea’s latest launches, South Korea reported its first test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. As President Moon Jae-in and other top officials watched, the missile flew from a submarine and hit a designated target, Moon’s office said.
South Korea, which does not have nuclear weapons and is instead protected by those of the United States, has been accelerating efforts to build its conventional weapons, including the development of more powerful missiles. Observers say the Moon government, which has been actively seeking reconciliation with North Korea, may have wanted to appear tougher in response to criticism that it is too soft on North Korea.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said photos from North Korea indicated the rail-fired missiles were a short-range, solid-fuel weapon that the North first tested with truck launchers in 2019, likely inspired by Russia’s Iskander missiles, are designed to fly at relatively low altitudes where the air is dense enough to allow maneuverability in flight, making it difficult to intercept missile defense systems. .
As North Korea is trying to expand its launch systems, analyst Kim questioned whether rail missiles would significantly enhance the country’s military capabilities when the North’s simple rail networks would be easy targets during the crisis.
Experts say North Korea is building its weapons systems to put pressure on the United States in hopes of obtaining relief from economic sanctions designed to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal. US-led talks on the issue have stalled for more than two years.
The Kim Jong-un government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s proposals for dialogue, demanding that Washington first abandon what it calls “hostile” policies, a reference to sanctions.
The United States said it had no hostile intent and asked that North Korea return to the talks. “What we seek is to reduce the threat to the United States, to our allies in the region … and we believe we can do this through diplomacy,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.