North Korea confirmed on Saturday that it test-fired ballistic missiles from a train in what was seen as retaliation for new sanctions imposed by the United States.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the exercise was aimed at “verifying and judging the efficiency in working procedures” of the missile, adding that the two guided missiles hit a specific target in the East Sea.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted its military as saying the latest projectiles flew 430 kilometers (267 miles) at an altitude of 36 kilometers (22 miles) and had a top speed of Mach 6 (7350 kilometers per hour), six times the speed of sound. .
North Korea’s state media report came a day after South Korea’s military said on Friday that it had detected two missile launches into the sea by its neighboring country, in what became the third such weapons launch this month.
The launch came hours after Pyongyang’s foreign ministry issued a statement reprimanding the United States for imposing new sanctions on past northern tests and warning of stronger and more visible measures if Washington maintains a “confrontational stance”.
North Korea has, in recent months, been ramping up tests of new missiles designed to override missile defenses in the region amid the pandemic’s border closures and the freezing of nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
Some experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is returning to a tried and true method of pressuring neighboring countries and the United States with missile launches and nefarious threats before offering negotiations aimed at extracting concessions.
The KCNA said Friday’s exercise was aimed at checking the alert status of the army’s railway mobile missile regiment.
The report said that the troops moved quickly to the launch site after receiving the order to test the missiles in a short time and fired two “tactical guided” missiles that accurately hit a sea target.
North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper published pictures of what appeared to be two different missiles hovering over smoke-soaked train cars.
Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Private Institute in South Korea, said North Korea likely conducted an unplanned launch to demonstrate its opposition to US sanctions.
Short range solid propellant weapon
The missiles launched from railroad cars appear to be a short-range, solid-fuel weapon, and North Korea appears to be modeled after Russia’s portable Iskander ballistic system.
First tested in 2019, the missile is designed to be maneuverable and fly at low altitudes, potentially improving its chances of evading and defeating missile systems.
North Korea first launched these missiles from a train in September last year as part of its effort to diversify its launch options, which now include different vehicles and may eventually include submarines, depending on the country’s progress in pursuing such capabilities.
Launching a missile from a train could increase mobility, but some experts say North Korea’s simple rail networks that run through its relatively small territory will be quickly destroyed by enemies during the crisis.
The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five North Koreans over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for their country’s missile programs — in response to North Korea’s earlier tests this month.
The Treasury announcement came just hours after North Korea said Kim oversaw a successful test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday that it claimed would significantly increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrent”. Tuesday’s test was North Korea’s second test of its hypersonic missile in a week.
(2nd LD) North Korea announces the launch of two missiles loaded on a train into the East Sea https://t.co/ymUm7zmdNl
– Yonhap News Agency January 14, 2022
Hours before its launch on Friday, the Korean Central News Agency published a statement attributed to an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who insisted that the new sanctions underscore the United States’ hostile intent aimed at “isolating and strangling” the country.
Hypersonic weapons, which fly at more than Mach 5 (6,125 km/h), or five times the speed of sound, can pose a critical challenge to missile defenses due to their speed and maneuverability.
These weapons were on the wish list of advanced military assets that Kim revealed early last year, along with multiple warheads, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles and nuclear submarine-launched missiles.
However, experts say North Korea will need years, along with more successful and longer-range tests, before obtaining a reliable hypersonic system.
A US-led diplomatic campaign aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program collapsed in 2019 after the Trump administration rejected Pyongyang’s demands for significant sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Since then, Kim has vowed to continue expanding his nuclear weapons arsenal which he clearly sees as the strongest guarantee of survival, despite the country’s economy suffering major setbacks amid the pandemic-related border closures and ongoing US-led sanctions.
His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s call to resume dialogue without preconditions, saying that the United States must first abandon its “hostile policy,” a term Pyongyang primarily uses to describe joint US-South Korea sanctions and military exercises.