N. Korea test-fired weapons meant to enhance “operation of tactical nukes”

Posted on : 2022-04-18 17:29 KST Modified on : 2022-04-18 17:29 KST
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff announced it had detected the launch, but did not report it immediately
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un observes the test-firing of a “new-type tactical guided weapon,” according to a front-page article in the April 17 edition of the party-run Rodong Sinmun. (KCNA/Yonhap News)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un observes the test-firing of a “new-type tactical guided weapon,” according to a front-page article in the April 17 edition of the party-run Rodong Sinmun. (KCNA/Yonhap News)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “gave important instructions on further building up the defence capabilities and nuclear combat forces of the country” while observing the “test-fire of a new-type tactical guided weapon,” the Workers’ Party of Korea-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported in a front-page story on Sunday.

“The new-type tactical guided weapon system [. . .] is of great significance in [. . .] enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes of the DPRK,” the article said.

Based on the eight photographs published by the Rodong Sinmun, the “new-type tactical guided weapon” was fired from two launch tubes mounted on a transporter erector launcher.

It was the first weapon launched by North Korea in 23 days since March 24, when it test-fired the Hwasong-17 “new-type intercontinental ballistic missile” under Kim’s direction.

South Korean, US, and Japanese governments did not announce the North Korean launch or make any reference to a response Saturday, suggesting that the weapon system test-fired by North Korea may not have been one of the ballistic missiles prohibited by the UN.

Shortly after the Rodong Sinmun’s report on the launch, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday that the South Korean military had “detected two projectiles launched by North Korea over the East Sea from the area of Hamhung [in South Hamgyong Province] at around 1800 yesterday [Saturday].”

“The launch details detected yesterday included an altitude of approximately 25 kilometers, a flight distance of roughly 110 kilometers, and a maximum speed below Mach 4,” the JCS continued, adding that “South Korean and US intelligence authorities are currently conducting a precise analysis.”

In its response, the Joint Chiefs referred only to “projectiles,” without specifying them as ballistic missiles. A military official closely acquainted with the situation said, “They were determined to be the weapons of a North Korean military tactical unit at the corps level, rather than any new weapon system.”

“It was determined that the details that had been detected did not warrant [immediate] announcement,” the official added.

This photograph, published by the Rodong Sinmun and released by state media, shows what it calls the testing of a new weapons system on April 16. (KCNA/Yonhap News)
This photograph, published by the Rodong Sinmun and released by state media, shows what it calls the testing of a new weapons system on April 16. (KCNA/Yonhap News)

The most striking part of the Rodong Sinmun’s brief report (221 words in its English-language version) was its reference to “enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes.”

In January 2021, Kim Jong-un delivered a project report (speech) at the 8th Workers’ Party of Korea Congress in which he made references to technology to “miniaturize, lighten and standardize nuclear weapons and to make them tactical ones” and to the development of “tactical nuclear weapons” in order to “thoroughly contain, control and handle on our own initiative various military threats on the Korean peninsula, which are inevitably accompanied the nuclear threat.”

Taken together, Kim’s remarks and the latest Rodong Sinmun report suggests that South Korea may be included as a potential target for the “new-type tactical guided weapon system” for “enhancing the efficiency of tactical nukes.”

This suggests one of Pyongyang’s aims may be to apply curbs to South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol — who made several overtly hard-line remarks about North Korea on the campaign trail, including ones stressing his willingness to conduct a “preemptive strike” in the event of signs of an imminent North Korean missile launch — and to the North Korea policies of Yoon’s administration, which is to take office on May 10.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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