North Korean leader Kim Jong-un applauds while taking part in a plenary of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee in late December 2023. (KCNA/Yonhap)
North Korea test-launched several cruise missiles over the West Sea on Wednesday morning, according to South Korea’s military.
The missile launches by the North Korean military came 10 days after its Jan. 14 launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which Pyongyang claimed to have been a hypersonic solid-fuel missile.
The launches of several cruise missiles over the West Sea on the North Korean side were detected at approximately 7:00 am on Wednesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced later that day. “South Korean and US intelligence officials are conducting a precision analysis to determine the specifications,” the Joint Chiefs added.
The chiefs went on to explain that around five cruise missiles were observed traveling along circular courses over the sea west of Pyongyang.
The projectiles test-launched on Wednesday may have been Hwasal-1 and Hwasal-2 strategic cruise missiles, which North Korea claims are capable of carrying the Hwasan-31 tactical nuclear warhead.
With ranges of around 1,500 kilometers (932 miles), the Hwasal-1 and Hwasal-2 are new models of cruise missiles previously launched by North Korea in September 2021 and in March, July and September of last year.
On March 24, 2023, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun reported that the North had fired off four strategic cruise missiles two days earlier. (Rodong Sinmun)
At the time of the September 2023 launch, North Korean state media announced that strategic cruise missiles had been fired as part of exercises for a tactical nuclear strike scenario. They boasted that North Korea possessed the ability to launch tactical nuclear strikes against the entire territory of South Korea and US bases in Japan.
“If these were strategic cruise missiles, it’s very likely they were conducting midair detonation testing,” said Kwon Yong-soo, an emeritus professor at Korea National Defense University.
North Korea also claimed to have successfully tested midair detonation after its cruise missile launches in March and September 2023. Midair detonation testing is conducted to identify the detonation altitude that maximizes destructive impact on terrestrial targets. Technology for adjusting the timing of the warhead explosion is a key component.
Since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s declaration late last year that inter-Korean relations were between “two belligerent states,” North Korea has fired coastal artillery in the West Sea region (on Jan. 5, 6 and 7), test-launched an IRBM (on Jan. 14), and tested the tactical nuclear-capable Haeil nuclear torpedo (on Jan. 19).
By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter
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