Thursday 23 May 2019

North Korea's second missile test 'proves it's not just trying to stir the pot'

Kim Jong-un observed the military test. Photo: AP
Kim Jong-un observed the military test. Photo: AP

Josh Smith

North Korea's second missile test signals it is serious about developing new, short-range weapons that could be used early and effectively in any war with South Korea and the United States, analysts studying images of the latest launches say.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon - a relatively small, fast missile experts believe will be easier to hide, launch, and manoeuvre in flight.

Photos released by state media yesterday showed Thursday's test involved the same weapon.

The tests have increased tensions after the last US-North Korea summit collapsed in February in Hanoi with no agreement over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said late on Thursday the launches seemed like a protest over the failed summit, while North Korea has defended the tests as routine and self defensive.

Some analysts say the multiple tests show the missiles aren't only for political show.

"This second test solidifies that these launches are not just to stir the pot and elicit a US response to resume negotiations," said Grace Liu, one of a team of missile experts at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) in California. "They are developing a reliable, operable missile that can defeat missile defences and conduct a precision strike in South Korea."

The US and South Korean responses to the launches have been muted, with US President Donald Trump and other officials emphasising the missiles are not the large, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States.

But analysts said the military applications of the new missiles should not be underestimated.

"The Trump administration keeps downplaying these missiles because they are not ICBMs, but even though they can't reach the US mainland, it's missiles like these that will start the war," said Melissa Hanham, a weapons expert at Datayo, which tracks international security threats.

"They are small, easy to hide, easy to manoeuvre and you can't tell what kind of warhead they are carrying. They could carry a nuclear weapon."

In a preliminary report on Wednesday, the North Korea tracking website 38 North said the new missile looks similar to Russia's SS-26 Iskander missile, and could exploit gaps in South Korean and American missile defence coverage.

The United States and South Korea field Patriot and THAAD missile batteries designed to shoot down various ballistic and cruise missiles, but their capabilities have been disputed.

While the origin of the North Korean missile remains unclear, a team of analysts at CNS said Thursday's test confirmed the missile is capable of manoeuvring to elude defences and protect its launch crew from detection.

Irish Independent

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