North Korea launched a “newly developed new-type tactical guided projectile” on Thursday, in its first test of a ballistic missile since US president Joe Biden took office, the country’s state media reported on Friday.
The new weapon system had been upgraded to carry warheads of 2.5 tons, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The United States swiftly condemned Pyongyang’s “destabilising ballistic missile launches” on Thursday, stressing that they “violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions and threaten the region and the broader international community.”
President Biden said Washington remained open to diplomacy with North Korea but warned of future responses if the situation escalated.
The new administration is currently completing a policy review of relations with the reclusive country, which have been frozen since failed nuclear talks between former President Trump and Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in 2019.
Nigel Adams, the UK’s minister for Asia, also condemned the launch. “North Korea must refrain from further provocations, and engage in meaningful negotiations with the US,” he said.
The KCNA report suggested Kim did not inspect Thursday’s launch even though analysts believe the new technology represents a significant upgrade of Pyongyang’s military capabilities.
The two missiles “accurately hit the target” set in the water 600 kilometres off the East Coast, it said, adding that the improved version of a solid fuel engine – which makes the weapon system more responsive – had been confirmed through several ground tests.
I’m deeply concerned #NorthKorea has conducted two short-range ballistic missile tests.
These tests are a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions.
Alongside our allies & partners, the UK 🇬🇧 is committed to peace on the Korean Peninsula.https://t.co/K1Ue86j95O
— Nigel Adams (@nadams) March 25, 2021
Experts say the Short Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM) that was fired could be a new version of the North’s KN-23 missile, which resembles Russia’s Iskander, and which was showcased during a military parade in Pyongyang in January.
Photos released by state media show that the new tactical guided projectile has a conical warhead in black and white colors, resembling those paraded.
Don’t sleep on this upgraded payload capacity. Kim Jong Un promised work on tactical nuclear systems. One way to do that is to design light compact nuclear warheads to mate with short range missiles. The other is to design your short range systems to carry…2.5 ton warheads. https://t.co/q9ZjQ3YGxu
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) March 26, 2021
“I think the story with this KN23 variant is this massive payload upgrade. This gives North Korea the flexibility to use a not-so-compact nuclear warhead on this missile,” tweeted Vipin Narang, an associate professor and nuclear proliferation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
On Thursday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the two short-range missiles were fired at around 7:06 a.m. and 7:25 a.m. from an area on the North’s eastern coast and flew 279 miles on an apogee of 37 miles before landing in the sea.
It said South Korea’s military has stepped up monitoring in case of “further provocations” from the North.