North Korea says it successfully tested what it described as new long-range cruise missiles over the weekend, renewing concerns that its nuclear-armed leadership its building its capacity to deliver strikes against U.S. allies in South Korea and Japan.
Experts weigh in on what the missiles tests show about the ambitions of the North’s isolated ruler, Kim Jong Un, and whether this signals a new threat.
THE MISSILES’ DESIGN
Experts say the missiles launched over the weekend resemble in appearance U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles, and are likely designed to overwhelm the missile defenses of North Korea’s neighbors.
The North said the missiles it described as “new type long-range cruise missiles” were a “strategic weapon of great significance” that met leader Kim Jong Un’s call to strengthen the country’s military might — implying that they were being developed with an intent to carry nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Monday that the missiles traveled for 126 minutes along “oval and pattern-8 flight orbits” above land and water, demonstrating an ability to hit targets 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away.
While North Korea had tested anti-ship cruise missiles before, the missiles from its latest tests are likely built with different designs and engines that provide improved range and maneuverability, experts say.
A NEW THREAT
While data from the tests are so far limited, it’s clear the new missiles represent “another significant milestone for North Korea’s nuclear program,” said Melissa Hanham, an affiliate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.
North Korea’s rulers are likely moving toward putting their cruise missiles on submarines and other naval vessels, Hanham added, as they try producing new delivery mechanisms for nuclear weapons.
“Cruise missiles are almost like little airplanes – they can be very accurate,” Hanham said. “They can turn corners. They can go into valleys where radars would not see them easily. It would be a much more difficult problem for South Korea and Japan to monitor.”
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo said they were examining the North’s latest tests but didn’t immediately release specific assessments from their militaries.
Kim has unilaterally halted North Korean testing of nuclear bombs and long-range ballistic missiles designed to target the American homeland since 2018 when he initiated diplomacy with former President Donald Trump while attempting to leverage his arsenal for sanctions relief.
However, the North continues to pursue a policy threatening regional confrontation.
While Kim has maintained the suspension on nuclear and long-range tests after his talks with Trump collapsed in 2019, the North has since tested a growing arsenal of short-range solid-fuel weapons fired from land-based launchers.
Experts say those weapons threaten South Korea and Japan because they can be launched quickly from vehicles and travel at flattened trajectories that make them harder for defense systems to detect and intercept.
While the new cruise missiles potentially expand North Korea’s capacities to attack its Asian rivals, the information released by its official news agency signaled a need for technological improvements, said Lee Choon Geun, a missile expert and honorary research fellow at …read more
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