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N.Korea test-fires nuclear-capable cruise missiles in ‘warning to enemies’

N.Korean leader says missile launches are another clear warning to enemies, urges to focus on nuclear buildup

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Oct. 13, 2022 - 15:31

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This photo, released by the Korean Central News Agency on Oct. 13, 2022, shows one of two long-range strategic cruise missiles that North Korea test-fired the previous day with its leader Kim Jong-un in attendance. The missiles flew for This photo, released by the Korean Central News Agency on Oct. 13, 2022, shows one of two long-range strategic cruise missiles that North Korea test-fired the previous day with its leader Kim Jong-un in attendance. The missiles flew for "10,234 seconds along an oval and pattern-8 flight orbits in the sky above the West Sea of Korea and clearly hit the target 2,000 km away," according to the North Korean state media. (Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday supervised the test-firing of “long-range strategic cruise missiles” that can carry tactical nuclear weapons, while urging the country to prioritize the expeditious development of nuclear combat forces, the state media reported on Thursday.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said that North Korea “successfully” test-fired two long-range strategic cruise missiles amid “powerful measures being taken to dramatically reinforce the national war deterrent as required by the prevailing situation and revolution.”

“The test-firing aims at further enhancing the combat performance and power of long-range strategic cruise missiles deployed to the tactical nuclear operation units of the Korean People’s Army and reaffirmed the reliability and technical stability of overall operational systems,” KCNA said in a Korean-language report.

The North Korean state media said Thursday that the “accuracy, technical superiority and combat effectiveness were perfectly proved through the successful test-firing.”

The cruise missiles traveled for 10,234 seconds or around 2.8 hours “along oval and pattern-8 flight trajectories in the sky above the West Sea of Korea and clearly hit the target 2,000 kilometers away,” according to KCNA.

Clear, unequivocal warning to enemies
The North Korean leader on Wednesday said “today’s roar of the missile launches is another clear and unequivocal warning by the country to its enemies and practical verification and clear demonstration of the absolute reliability of the country’s war deterrent and combat power.”

Kim said the test launches demonstrated North Korean “nuclear combat forces’ thorough combat readiness” which enable the military to “subdue its enemies at a single stroke by launching unconditional, swift, precise and powerful counter attacks with any kind of weapon systems.”

Kim also underscored that the country “should continue to expand the domain of operating the nuclear strategic armed forces to resolutely deter any grave military crisis and war crisis that could come at any time and to completely take the initiative” on the battlefield in contingency or wartime scenarios.

“Dear respected comrade Kim Jong-un said all resources should be focused on strengthening and developing the national nuclear combat armed forces indefinitely and expeditiously,” KCNA reported.

Implications of missile launches
The North Korean state media previously reported the test-firing of “long-range cruise missiles” in September 2021 and January this year.

In September 2021, the North Korean state media said that a long-range cruise missile is the “strategic weapon of great significance” in achieving the key goal of the five-year defense development plan proposed at the 8th Party Congress in January 2021. 

At that time, the state media underlined that the development of long-range cruise missiles had been pushed for the last two years while conducting ground tests of engine thrust, flight tests, testing of control and guidance systems, warhead testing and among others.

But Thursday’s report marks the first time that the North Korean state media has explicitly labeled the weapon as a “long-range strategic cruise missile” and elucidates that the cruise missiles are capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons intended for use by troops on the battlefield.

“North Korea suggests that it seeks to make up for a weakness in cruise missiles -- that can be armed with small conventional warheads -- by mounting tactical nuclear warheads on cruise missiles,” said Chang Young-keun, a professor at Korea Aerospace University.

“The South Korean military has taken countermeasures solely against North Korean ballistic missile threats, but now is the time to grapple with how to counter threats posed by cruise missiles armed with tactical nuclear weapons.”

Chang also pointed out that cruise missiles fly at a low altitude, generally below 100 meters. The low-altitude flight path enables cruise missiles to avoid detection by early warning radar and penetrate missile defense system.

The North Korean media report also intended to underscore that its cruise missiles can fly circuitous routes to get to the target while evading interception by stating that the missile traveled 2,000 kilometers “along oval and pattern-8 flight trajectories.”

Chang also said that the missile launches “aimed to target the US military base in Okinawa, which is approximately 1,500 kilometers away from Pyongyang,” elucidating that the military base is the place where the US reinforce its military and weapons in case of contingencies on the Korean Peninsula.

Nuclear saber-rattling
North Korea has ratcheted up nuclear saber-rattling by launching purported dual-capable ballistic and cruise missiles – that are capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads — in unusually short intervals.

North Korea has fired 12 ballistic missiles and two cruise missiles in eight discrete launches in 18 days from Sep. 25 through Wednesday.

State media said Monday that the country’s “tactical nuclear operation units” conducted live-fire drills seven times between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. The media reported that the launches of dual-capable ballistic missiles aimed to simulate striking main targets in South Korean territory with tactical nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday belatedly confirmed that North Korea fired two cruise missiles off the western coast from areas in the city of Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, about 80 kilometers north of the capital city of Pyongyang. The missile launches were conducted from around 2:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday.

“Our military was aware of the situation in real time,” Kim Jun-rak, Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson, said during a televised press briefing. “We’ve maintained readiness posture in close coordination with the US while strengthening monitoring and surveillance.”