By Lorenz Duchamps
North Korea over the weekend successfully test-fired a new long-range cruise missile capable of hitting targets 930 miles away, according to the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The multi-day operation was confirmed as a “success” by leading officials and scientists of the Academy of National Defense Science who took part in the testing of the new type of cruise missile that was launched on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, KCNA report.
The missile, dubbed “a strategic weapon of great significance,” flew 930 miles before hitting its targets and falling into the country’s territorial waters during the tests, according to the agency. The weapon system was in development for the past two years.
A collage published by KCNA shows the missile being fired from a launch vehicle, as well as the rocket artillery traveling in horizontal flight. The missile reportedly traveled for 7,580 seconds in the air above territorial land and waters of the communist country before hitting its target.
United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions have barred North Korea from testing ballistic missiles, and the country has been heavily sanctioned over its missile and nuclear weapons programs. However, the testing of cruise missiles usually generates less interest, because they are not explicitly banned under the UNSC.
North Korea has also ignored offers from the Biden administration to resume negotiations to abandon its nuclear program. The most recent tests were the most significant since President Joe Biden took office. Earlier in January, just hours after Biden’s inauguration, North Korea test-fired cruise missiles, while later in March it again tested a new tactical short-range ballistic missile.
President Donald Trump, who met with Kim Jong Un three times during his four years in office, was the first U.S. president to set foot on North Korean soil.
Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University, told AFP that the new strategic missile “poses a considerable threat,” adding that he believes it is “very likely that there will be more tests for the development of various weapons systems.”
“If the North has sufficiently miniaturized a nuclear warhead, it can be loaded onto a cruise missile as well,” Park noted.
The United States Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement it is monitoring the situation and U.S. officials are in close contact with allies and partners following the reports of rocket artillery tests.
“This activity highlights DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that pose to its neighbors and the international community,” the combatant command responsible for the Indo-Pacific region said. “The U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.”
Cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles that can be armed with either conventional or nuclear bombs are particularly destabilizing in the event of conflict as it can be unclear which kind of warhead they are carrying, analysts said.
It is unclear whether North Korea has mastered the technology needed to build warheads small enough to be carried on a cruise missile, but regime leader Kim Jong Un said earlier this year that developing smaller bombs is a top goal.
Kim did not appear to have attended the test, with KCNA saying Pak Jong Chon, a member of the Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo and a secretary of its central committee, overseeing it.
Reuters contributed to this report.