North Korea says it tested two nuclear-capable cruise missiles | Weapons News

According to state media, the tests were overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who has made acquiring tactical nuclear weapons a priority.

North Korea has tested two long-range strategic cruise missiles and leader Kim Jong Un hailed another successful demonstration of the country’s tactical nuclear strike capability.

The test, which took place on Wednesday, aimed to improve “the combat efficiency and strength” of cruise missiles stationed with the Korean People’s Army “for the use of tactical nuclear weapons,” state media KCNA reported Thursday morning.

It was the latest in a string of arms launches that have increased tensions on the divided Korean peninsula and fueled fears that Pyongyang could conduct its first nuclear test in five years.

The cruise missiles flew 2,000 km (1,240 miles) over the sea, according to KCNA, which said the projectiles hit their intended but unspecified targets.

a cruise missile taking off from a launch vehicle in a cloud of smoke and flames
Cruise missile launches aren’t monitored as closely as ballistic missile launches, but analysts say they could carry either conventional or nuclear warheads in the event of a conflict [KCNA/KNS via AFP]

Stressing that the test is another clear warning to “enemies,” Kim said the country “should continue to expand the operational area of ​​nuclear strategic forces to resolutely deter any crucial military and war crisis at any time and fully seize the initiative in it,” according to KCNA.

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A US State Department spokesman declined to comment on the launches, saying Washington remains focused on coordinating with allies and partners to address threats posed by North Korea.

On Monday, North Korean state media reported that Kim had overseen two weeks of guided nuclear-tactical exercises, including testing a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which was fired over Japan and the United States in protest at recent joint naval exercises by South Korea and the United States launching the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan involved.

Failure to reject tests

North Korean state media once routinely reported on the country’s weapons tests, but have stopped doing so in recent months.

Analysts say that while the recent “tide of propaganda” cannot be trusted, the tests should not be ignored.

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“North Korea’s cruise missiles, air force and tactical nuclear weapons are likely to be far less capable than the propaganda suggests. But it would be a mistake to dismiss North Korea’s recent weapons test series as bluster or saber-rattling,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Seoul’s Ewha University, wrote in comments via email.

“Pyongyang’s military threats are a chronic and growing problem for peace and stability in Asia that cannot be ignored. Policymakers in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington should not allow domestic politics and other challenges such as Russia’s war in Ukraine to prevent them from strengthening international coordination on military deterrence and economic sanctions.”

North Korea’s cruise missiles typically attract less interest than ballistic weapons because they are not specifically banned by UN Security Council resolutions.

Kim made the acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons — smaller, lighter, and designed for use on the battlefield — a priority at a key party convention in January 2021, and first tested a “strategic” cruise missile in September of that year.

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Analysts said it was the country’s first such weapon with nuclear capabilities and a worrying development because, in the event of a conflict, it may not be clear whether it carried a conventional or a nuclear warhead.

The country revised its nuclear laws last month to allow for pre-emptive strikes, with Kim declaring North Korea an “irreversible” nuclear power, effectively ending the possibility of negotiations over its arsenal.

President Joe Biden presented the latest update to the United States National Security Strategy on Wednesday, but it made only a single reference to North Korea.

Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat to East Asia under former President Barack Obama, said this was remarkable “not only because it so quickly bypassed an ongoing and existential threat, but also because it frames the strategy as ‘ongoing ‘Seek denuclearization diplomacy’ ‘when North Korea has so convincingly demonstrated its outright rejection of negotiations’.

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