SEOUL: Kim Jong Un supervised the test-firing of a new guided weapons system to improve North Korea’s “tactical nukes”, state media said Sunday, capping days of celebrations surrounding the birthday of the country’s founding leader.
The launch was the latest in an unprecedented blitz of sanctions-busting weapons-tests this year, which included firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.
It also came just ahead of US-South Korea military training exercises – which have always infuriated Pyongyang – that were due to begin on Monday.
The “new-type tactical guided weapon… is of great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes,” the North’s official KCNA news agency reported.
It said the test was successful, but did not specify when or where it took place.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected two projectiles fired late on Saturday, which flew 110 kilometres (68 miles) at an altitude of 25 kilometres, travelling at speeds of around Mach 4.
The United States was “aware of the North Korean statement that they conducted a test of a long range artillery system”, a Pentagon spokesperson said, adding it was monitoring.
Analysts had widely expected Pyongyang could conduct a nuclear test as part of events to celebrate Friday’s anniversary of the 110th birthday of North Korea’s founding leader – and Kim’s grandfather – Kim Il Sung.
Expectations were heightened because of indications that Pyongyang had restarted work at one of its known nuclear testing sites.
North Korea marks founder’s birth without a military parade
Analysts said the weapon tested over the weekend appeared to be a new short-range ballistic missile – but no less significant.
“This is North Korea’s first tactical nuclear weapon delivery system, it would seem,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“You don’t have to be particularly imaginative to put this two and two together.”
Short-range but significant
Photos carried by the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a grinning Kim – surrounded by uniformed officials – applauding as he watched what it said was the test-firing of the weapon.