North Korea Test-fires New 'Long-range Cruise Missile'

By Asharq Al-Awsat
The North Korean flag. Reuters

North Korea test-fired a new "long-range cruise missile" over the weekend, state media reported Monday, with the United States saying the nuclear-armed country was threatening its neighbors and beyond.

Pictures in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a missile exiting one of five tubes on a launch vehicle in a ball of flame, and a missile in horizontal flight.

Such a weapon would represent a marked advance in North Korea's weapons technology, analysts said, better able to avoid defense systems to deliver a warhead across the South or Japan -- both of them US allies.

The test launches took place on Saturday and Sunday, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

The missiles travelled 1,500-kilometer, two-hour flight paths -- including figure-of-8 patterns -- above North Korea and its territorial waters to hit their targets, according to KCNA.

Its report called the missile a "strategic weapon of great significance", adding the tests were successful and it gave the country "another effective deterrence means" against "hostile forces".

North Korea is under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which it says it needs to defend against a US invasion.

But Pyongyang is not banned from developing cruise missiles, which it has tested previously.

As described, the missile "poses a considerable threat", Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University, told AFP.

"If the North has sufficiently miniaturized a nuclear warhead, it can be loaded onto a cruise missile as well," Park said.

"It's very likely that there will be more tests for the development of various weapons systems."

The launch was a response to joint South Korea-US military drills last month, he said.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is due in Seoul on Tuesday and Park added: "By choosing cruise missiles, North Korea is trying not to provoke the US and China too much."

Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies tweeted that the reported missiles would be capable of delivering a warhead against targets "throughout South Korea and Japan".

"An intermediate-range land-attack cruise missile is a pretty serious capability for North Korea," he added.

"This is another system that is designed to fly under missile defense radars or around them."

The South Korean military -- normally the first source of information on the North's missile tests -- had made no announcement of any launches over the weekend.

They said they were analyzing developments.

In a statement, the US Indo-Pacific Command said the reports highlighted North Korea's "continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community".

It reiterated that the US commitment to defend South Korea -- where it stations around 28,500 troops to protect it against its neighbor -- and Japan "remains ironclad".


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