SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea has conducted its first missile test in about six months. Analysts say testing long-range cruise missiles could give Pyongyang another way to avoid its neighbors’ missile defenses.
North Korea’s state media reported Monday that “newly developed long-range cruise missiles” have flown 1,500 kilometers over North Korean territory.
It did not say how many missiles were tested, but said they were tested on Saturday and Sunday.
Pictures posted in North Korea’s state media show a cruise missile being fired from a five-canister, road-mobile launcher parked on a highway.
Several analysts say the missile looks like a U.S. Tomahawk, a nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of about 1,600 kilometers.
The cruise missile test appears to be less provocative than the launch of long-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles, which involve technology that could target the mainland United States.
But the launch will serve as a test for U.S. President Joe Biden, who says he is open to both diplomacy and additional economic pressure on North Korea.
Designed to avoid
U.S. and South Korean officials, who usually identify and report after North Korea’s missile tests, did not release the statement until after North Korea’s state media announced it.
The U.S. military said in a statement that it was aware of the reported launch and was closely monitoring and consulting with its allies and partners.
“This activity underscores DPRK’s continued focus on the development of military programs and the threats it poses to its neighbors and the international community,” the statement said.
In a statement to the VOA, the South Korean military confirmed the launch, saying it was “conducting detailed analysis in close coordination with South Korea and US intelligence.”
This is North Korea’s first known missile launch since March, when it was seen testing cruise missile technology. The test was only confirmed by U.S. officials after the first report of the test was published in the Washington Post.
North Korea conducted its first launch in 2021
Cruise missiles are generally more difficult to detect than ballistic missiles launched by North Korea, as they fly at relatively low altitudes and can be controlled by aircraft.
“This is another system designed for missile defense radar or to fly around them,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, said on Twitter.
North Korea’s state media has described the cruise missile as “strategic”, meaning nuclear capability. Some defense experts are not sure whether this statement reflects current or final powers.
“Although you can say that the missile will be nuclear-capable, no North Korean warhead has yet been identified,” said Melissa Hanham, an associate at the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Hanham insisted that he had not yet conducted an analysis to estimate the size of the missile, but that it did not appear to be small enough for North Korea to have a nuclear warhead.
“They are certainly claiming that there is a new cruise missile that has range and that it looks like a U.S. Tomahawk,” Hanham said.
The 1,500-kilometer range means that new North Korean cruise missiles can reach most of South Korea and Japan.
The latest test
The missile represents another deadly component of North Korea’s missiles, which have expanded significantly since 2012, when Pyongyang began large-scale weapons tests.
Since then, North Korea appears to have tested at least five new types of missiles বেশির most short-range ballistic missiles are also designed to evade neighboring defenses.
North Korea has not conducted any intercontinental ballistic missile or nuclear tests since 2017, although Pyongyang has occasionally indicated that it could.
In January 2020, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that he no longer felt bound by his self-imposed suspension of long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear tests.
That suspension was established during diplomacy between Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump has repeatedly thwarted North Korea’s short-range launch. Biden also stopped testing North Korea’s cruise missiles in March, calling it “business as usual.”
Biden has not yet responded to the North’s latest test.
North Korea has banned any ballistic missile activity, according to a UN Security Council resolution. Although the resolution did not address cruise missile technology, some analysts say recent tests could have provoked strong reactions from the United States in terms of the missile’s potential nuclear capability.
“If so, the test deserves international efforts to enforce the ban,” said Leif-Eric Ezle, a professor at Eva University in Seoul.
Negotiations between the United States and North Korea broke down in 2019 due to disagreements over how to move forward with the lifting of sanctions on North Korea’s move to dismantle its nuclear program.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said it is open to resuming talks with North Korea, but for now North Korea’s vision is elsewhere.
For the past year and a half, North Korea has imposed a severe epidemic lockdown, sealed its borders, reduced imports and restricted domestic travel.