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Kim Jong-un oversees ballistic missile test

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversees a “strategic guided weapons” test in this image released by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency on March 21, 2020. The test marks Pyongyang’s third launch after previous rounds on March 2 and 9. (Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversees a “strategic guided weapons” test in this image released by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency on March 21, 2020. The test marks Pyongyang’s third launch after previous rounds on March 2 and 9. (Yonhap)

The two short-range projectiles North Korea fired into the East Sea on Saturday were ballistic missiles and the test was overseen by the country’s leader Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said Sunday, adding the “strategic guided weapons” would soon be operational.

The missiles flew approximately 410 kilometers and reached a peak altitude of 50 kilometers from Sonchon, North Pyongan Province, 170 kilometers northwest of the capital, Pyongyang, along the North’s western coast.

In its third weapons launch this month, North Korea seems to have flown its own version of the US surface-to-surface missile ATACMS, which Pyongyang test-fired twice in August last year, according to the South Korean military and military experts.

“The prior two tests last year were trial runs. That’s why Pyongyang called them ‘new weapons.’ Now, it calls them ‘strategic,’ meaning the missiles have come closer to combat deployment,” said Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

Kim added that North Korea could now be looking to prepare front-line units responsible for operating those missiles to optimize their readiness.

Pyongyang fired the missiles five minutes apart this time, much shorter than the average 15-minute interval seen last year. The missiles also demonstrated a longer range, flying from the western coast, as opposed to the eastern coast, into the East Sea.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry reiterated its earlier assessments that the latest launches could be part of Pyongyang’s wintertime military drills and serve as a protest against continuing UN sanctions imposed on the communist regime.

The ministry added that the firings aimed to rally the North Korean people, potentially unsettled by the coronavirus pandemic, against their neighbors in South Korea.

Kim Jong-un said the Saturday launches were a clear display of defense power, saying, “We must bolster our readiness to annihilate any hostile military presence. That is the objective and ultimate strategy of our party, the very war deterrence we can rely on.”

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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