|This photo released by North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Sunday, shows North Korea test firing a new weapon a day before. Weapons experts said the North's new weapon seemed to bear traits of the U.S. Army's tactical missiles system. KCNA-Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
With North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) releasing Sunday photos of its "new weapon," speculations are that the country has developed a new surface-to-surface tactical missile which bears traits of the U.S. Army's tactical missiles system (ATACMS).
North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un guided the test launch of the country's "another new weapon system" which was developed to "suit the terrain condition of our country," North Korea, and has "advantageous tactical character different from existing weapon systems," according to the KCNA report.
Experts said the new weapon launched on Aug. 10 showed similar traits to the U.S. ATACMS and South Korea's Korea Tactical Surface-to-Surface Missile (KTSSM).
|Graphic by Cho Sang-won|
"North Korea's new surface-to-surface tactical missile seemed to be one that explodes in flight to deploy smaller explosives," said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum.
The North's new missile seemed to have a launcher that is similar to that of the South's Hyunmoo-2A which can travel as far as 300 kilometers and of the South's Hyunmoo-2B that has a longer range of 500 kilometers. The North's launcher has two torpedo tubes while the South's Hyunmoo-2A and 2B launchers have one tube.
According to the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff, the North's missile flew about 400 kilometers at an apogee of around 48 kilometers, with the maximum speed being more than Mach 6.1. They were detected at 5:34 and 5:40 a.m. respectively from around Hamhung in South Hamgyong Province.
The U.S. ATACMS has a range of 300 kilometers with the maximum speed being Mach 3.1.
Another weapons analyst Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University's Far East Institute, said it seemed the North has conducted test launches of three different types of new weapon systems in recent months ― including the latest launches.
Since May, the North has test-fired short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) assessed to be KN-23, a modified version of a Russian Iskander missile on May 4 and 9, July 25 and Aug. 6; what it has described as a "newly developed large-caliber multiple rocket launcher system" on July 31 and Aug. 2; and the new tactical weapon assessed to be new surface-to-surface missile on Aug. 10.
"The North's weapons launched in recent months have longer ranges, lower apogees and faster maximum speeds while fired from transporter erector launchers (TELs) using solid fuel," Kim said.
"With the time of launches shortened and the sites diversified, they deter the South Korea-U.S. intelligence assets' detection and challenge the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system." He was referring to one axis of South Korea's three-axis missile defense system that also includes the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) that focuses on intercepting missiles and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan.
"They could be seen as the North's low-cost and high-efficiency conventional weapons system to achieve a deterrence ability that can cover the whole Korean Peninsula which is like a scorpion's tail."
Meanwhile, South Korea's KTSSM ― similar to the U.S. ATACMS and the North's new weapon ― is being developed by the South's Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and expected to be deployed by 2021.
While the North has said the recent test launches of its weapons were to "warn" the South Korean side which is pushing ahead with a joint military drill with the U.S., which began on Sunday under the name of Combined Command Post Training. This is seen as a move to tone down the military exercise to support peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula, as the South was expected to name the drill Dong Maeng 19-2, following the Dong Maeng 19-1 conducted in March.
The Combined Command Post Training will continue until Aug. 20 and focus on the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the South Korean military ahead of the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) according to the Ministry of National Defense.