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The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea, said on Friday, November 29 the latest test-firing of its “super-large” multiple rocket launcher was a final review of the weapon’s combat application, suggesting that the country is preparing to deploy the new weapons system soon.
Details about the launch
South Korea’s director of operations of its Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Maj. Gen. Jeon Dong Jin said North Korea fired two projectiles, which is likely from the same super-large rocket launcher. The two projectiles traveled a maximum distance of 380 km (236 miles) at an altitude of approximately 97 km (60 miles), Jeon told the media. The projectiles were fired with a 30-second interval between them, the JCS confirmed after the briefing, according to Associated Press (AP) sources.
North Korea launched two short-range projectiles from a large-caliber multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) on the country’s east coast from Ryonpo on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 28. The drill was carried out in Hamju county, just south of Hamhung along the east coast, according to state media.
JCS stated that the two projectiles were launched toward the East Sea in the vicinity of Yeonpo in South Hamgyong Province at 16:59 local time. “Our military is maintaining readiness posture tracking and monitoring the relevant movement in preparation for additional launch,” according to a statement released by JCS.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was present at the site, inspecting the test-fire of the super-large MLRS conducted by the Academy of National Defense Science. According to state media, he was said to have ordered his armed forces to ensure full preparedness by conducting “real war-like drill[s]” at a “higher degree of intensity.” Kim was “greatly satisfied” with the drills carried out, according to state media.
Reminder of U.S.–North Korea diplomacy talks
The day of the launch fell on Thanksgiving and was also a day short of the two-year anniversary of the North’s first test of its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, which is said to be capable of reaching the entire United States mainland.
This test is North Korea’s thirteenth this year and comes amid a continued diplomatic stalemate between Pyongyang and Washington, D.C. over North Korea’s nuclear program, according to the North Korea Professional Research Platform (NK Pro). Talks between the two nations have faltered since a round of working-level negotiations fell apart in Stockholm, Sweden in early October 2019.
The country could possibly end its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests and launch long-range missiles capable of hitting American cities, should there be no further talks on lifting sanctions.
Reaction from neighboring nations
South Korea has condemned the exercise, claiming it is in violation of a military agreement between the two nations. “Our military expresses its strong regret over [the launches] and urges [North Korea] to immediately stop acts that escalate military tensions,” said Jeon. He said the military is monitoring possible additional launches by North Korea.
Speaking at the special briefing, Jeon said, “Such action by North Korea is not helpful to efforts to alleviate tensions on the Korean peninsula. In response, our military expresses strong regret and repeatedly urges the immediate halt of acts heightening military tensions.” Jeon said that the South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are conducting a detailed analysis of additional specifications.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has condemned the provocative move and cited the launches as a “serious challenge” to both Japan and the international community, even though the projectiles did not land in Japanese territorial water as reported by Japanese coastguards.
He said his government will “do its utmost” to protect the lives and assets of the Japanese people.
The militaries of both neighboring nations have heightened their security due to the belief that the weapons systems are well underway to be utilized within weeks. “The repeated tests are aimed at further improving the weapon before deploying it for operation,” Chang Young Keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University in Goyang, South Korea told Yonhap News Agency. “North Korea appears to be advancing its system for successive firings, among other capabilities.”
This test is North Korea’s first since another took place late October this year when the country was reported to have conducted a launch of a new MLRS. The test follows increasingly provocative military actions by the North, with the country’s state media reporting on Monday, December 2 that the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the Armed Forces of the DPRK, had conducted a series of artillery drills near its maritime border with the South.
Analyst Kim Dong Yub at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) said that North Korea appears to be entering the stage of mass-producing and deploying the rocket launcher. He wrote on Facebook that the weapons system may already have been deployed.