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NK tests missiles as US chained to antivirus efforts

North Korea fires a pair of super-large rockets into the East Sea in its fourth weapons test of the year on March 29, 2020. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korea fires a pair of super-large rockets into the East Sea in its fourth weapons test of the year on March 29, 2020. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korea fired what appeared to be two ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Sunday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, urging the regime to halt the “inappropriate” military act amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was the North’s fourth weapons test this year, all in March.

The missiles flew approximately 230 kilometers from Wonsan on the North’s eastern coast and reached a peak altitude of 30 kilometers. South Korea’s key security officials including the national security adviser held an emergency video conference shortly after the firings, Cheong Wa Dae said. 

While the South Korean authorities were looking into the event, military watchers said the firing was evidence that the North would stop at nothing to test its weapons.

“North Korea is essentially saying it will go on with business as usual for its weapons development -- missiles or rockets -- no matter what the surrounding circumstances are around the country or the world,” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum.

The US, which recorded the highest number of COVID-19 infections worldwide days ago, is preoccupied containing the virus, while the South is struggling to bring down infections, after seeing the greatest number of infections in Asia outside China, where the virus originated.

Experts said the North may have tested “new guided rockets” this time, as they were the least combat ready weapons among the four sets of short-range weapons it revealed the previous year. Pyongyang launched super-large rockets March 2 and 9 and its variant of the US surface-to-surface missile ATACMS on March 21.

North Korea has already put into combat operation its adaptation of the Russian ballistic missile Iskander, also one of the weapons demonstrated a year ago, according to Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

“In terms of combat readiness, super-large rockets would soon be operational with Pyongyang’s ATACMS following next in line. The new guided rockets on Sunday needs more time, though,” Kim said, adding he was surprised to see the North unveiling each complete set of weaponry much quicker than it was supposed to.

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