North Korea’s state-run KCTV reported on Jan. 29 that Kim Jong-un had overseen the test-fire of Pulhwasal-3-31 submarine-launched strategic cruise missiles the day prior. (still of KCTV/Yonhap)
North Korea test-fired multiple cruise missiles over the waters off its western coast on Tuesday morning, according to an announcement by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. This marked the third time in a week that the North fired off cruise missiles, following previous launches on Jan. 24 and 28.
“At approximately 0700 hours, we detected several unidentified [models of] cruise missiles launched over the West Sea in North Korea, and South Korean and US government authorities are currently conducting a close analysis,” the Joint Chiefs said Tuesday.
The chiefs did not plan to announce details about the missiles based on the analysis, due to concerns that North Korea might use them as a basis for deceptively intended reporting.
South Korean military authorities are favoring the possibility that the cruise missiles launched by the North on Tuesday were of the Pulhwasal-3-31 variety, which was used in the two previous launches.
North Korea first test-fired the Pulhwasal 3-31 — a new form of strategic cruise missile whose name means “fire arrow” in Korean — over the West Sea on Jan. 24 from a location on land near Pyongyang. It launched the same missile again on Sunday from the waters near Sinpo in South Hamgyong Province.
The Joint Chiefs speculated that North Korea has been conducting focused test launches of the missile in an effort to boost the Pulhwasal-3-31’s performance. It has used different means to launch the missiles in the last week, including land-based launches on Jan. 24 and 30 and a sea-based launch on Jan. 28.
The missile appears to be usable from on land, sea vessels, and submarines.
Commenting on the flight time and range of the Pulhwasal-3-31 missiles test-fired on Tuesday, a South Korean military official said that they “proceeded for the normal distance claimed by North Korea.” The Pulhwasal-3-31 is estimated to have a maximum range of 2,000 kilometers, or around 1,240 miles.
In announcing the test launch of two Pulhwasal-3-31 submarine-launched cruise missiles on Sunday, North Korea claimed they had respectively traveled for 7,421 seconds and 7,445 seconds, or roughly 124 minutes. The Joint Chiefs concluded that the announcement from the North had exaggerated the missiles’ flight durations.
Cruise missile launches are not considered to be in violation of UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea because they do not use ballistic missile technology. But with the North claiming that its cruise missiles can carry tactical nuclear warheads, they do pose a threat to the Korean Peninsula and US bases in Japan.
By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter
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