North Korea: Latest missile simulated nuclear counterattack
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Monday it simulated a nuclear attack on South Korea with a ballistic missile launch over the weekend, in what was its fifth missile demonstration this month to protest the biggest joint military exercises in years between the US and South Korea.
The North’s leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military to hold more drills to sharpen the wartime readiness of its nuclear forces in the face of “aggression” from its enemies, state media reported.
South Korea and Japan’s militaries spotted the short-range missile being fired into waters off the North’s east coast on Sunday, which reportedly came less than an hour before the US flew long-range B-1B bombers for training with South Korean fighter jets. The North characterizes the exercises between the US and South Korea as a rehearsal for an invasion, although allies insist they are defensive in nature. Some experts say the North is using the exercises as an excuse to advance its weapons programs.
The official Pyongyang Korean Central News Agency said the missile, which flew about 800 kilometers (500 miles), was armed with a dummy nuclear warhead. It described the test as successful and said the device detonated as intended 800 meters (yards) above water at a location simulating an unspecified “large enemy target,” allegedly confirming the reliability of the weapon’s nuclear explosion control devices and warhead fuses .
According to the report, the launch was the final step in a two-day exercise that also included nuclear command and control exercises and training military units to more quickly transition into a nuclear counterattack posture, properly handle nuclear weapons systems, and execute attack plans.
The drill is also a “stronger warning” to the United States and South Korea that are “naked in their explicit attempt to unleash war” against the North, KCNA said.
Photos released by state media showed Kim walking through a forest spewing flames and smoke with his daughter and senior military officials and a missile, which the North described as a tactical nuclear weapons system.
Saying that his enemies are “becoming more vocal in their aggressive moves,” Kim set out unspecified “strategic tasks” for advancing his nuclear forces and enhancing their war readiness, KCNA said. This indicated that the North could step up its arms demonstrations in the coming weeks or months.
Jeon Ha Gyu, spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, said it was clear North Korea was making “considerable progress” in nuclear weapons technology with its increased testing activities. He gave no specific assessment of the North’s claim that the warhead was successfully detonated.
North Korean photos showed the most recent launch was a solid-fuel missile apparently modeled after Russia’s Iskander mobile ballistic system, which the North has been testing since 2019. The missiles are designed to move at low altitude and be maneuverable in flight, theoretically improving their chances of evading South Korean missile defenses.
While these missiles have primarily been launched from wheeled vehicles, North Korea has also tested them, or their variants, from railcars, a submarine, and a platform in a reservoir. Photos from the latest test suggested the missile may have been launched from a silo dug into the ground, highlighting the North’s efforts to diversify its launch options and make it harder for adversaries to identify and fend off.
South Korea’s military said the launch took place in a mountainous northwestern region near Tongchangri, home to a site where the North has conducted long-range missile and satellite launches in years past.
North Korea probably has dozens of nuclear warheads, but there are differing assessments of how far the North has progressed in miniaturizing and engineering these weapons to match the newer weapons it has been testing in recent years.
While the North may be able to place basic nuclear warheads on some of its older systems, such as Scuds or Rodong missiles, after six nuclear tests, it will likely require further technology upgrades and nuclear tests to build warheads that can be used on its more advanced tactical ones Systems can be installed systems, according to Lee Choon Geun, an honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.
Sunday’s short-range launch marked the North’s fifth missile event this month and third since joint drills by US and South Korean forces began on March 13. Allied drills, scheduled to continue through Thursday, include computer simulations and their largest spring field exercise since 2018.
The North has launched around 20 missiles in nine different launch events so far in 2023. These included short-range missiles launched from land, cruise missiles launched from a submarine, and two different ICBMs that launched at an airport near Pyongyang to demonstrate a dual capability of conducting nuclear strikes at South Korea and the US mainland.
The latest ICBM test last Thursday preceded a summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who agreed to resume security dialogues and take other steps to improve their often-strained ties amid North Korean threats to improve.
North Korea has already had a record year in testing activity, with more than 70 missiles fired in 2022, while Kim accelerates its weapons development to force the United States to embrace the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiate much-needed sanctions to liberate one position of strength.
In response to the recent ICBM launch, the UN Security Council called an emergency open meeting Monday morning at the request of the United States, the United Kingdom, Albania, Ecuador, France and Malta. Security Council resolutions have long banned North Korea’s ballistic missile activities, but permanent councilors Russia and China have thwarted punishment or further sanctions in recent years.
The UN Security Council held an informal meeting on Friday at which the US, its allies and human rights experts highlighted what they believe to be the dire legal situation in North Korea. China and Russia denounced the meeting as a politicized move.
North Korea’s UN mission called the meeting on “our non-existent ‘human rights issue'” illegal. It also said the US held Friday’s meeting “while hosting the aggressive joint military exercise that poses a serious threat to our national security.”
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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