North Korea said on Saturday it launched ballistic missiles from a train in what was seen as an apparent retaliation against new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Saturday it launched ballistic missiles from a train in what was seen as an apparent retaliation against new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration.
The North’s state media report came a day after South Korea’s military said it detected the North firing two missiles into the sea in its third weapons launch this month.
The launch came hours after Pyongyang’s foreign ministry issued a statement chastising the United States for imposing new sanctions on the North’s previous tests and warning against stronger and more explicit action if Washington maintains its “confrontational position”.
In recent months, North Korea has stepped up testing of new missiles designed to overwhelm missile defenses in the region amid pandemic-related border closures and a nuclear diplomacy freeze with the United States.
Some experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is reverting to a tried-and-true technique of pressuring the United States and its neighbors with outrageous missile launches and threats before offering negotiations aimed at securing concessions.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Friday’s drill was aimed at checking the alert position of its army’s rail missile regiment. Troops quickly moved to the launch site after being ordered to test the missile on short notice and fired two “tactically guided” missiles that accurately hit a marine target, the report said.
The North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper published photos of what appeared to be two different missiles hovering over train cars engulfed in smoke.
Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the North likely staged a previously unplanned launch to demonstrate its opposition to US sanctions.
The missiles fired from the wagons appeared to be a short-range, solid-fueled weapon that the North apparently modeled on Russia’s Iskander mobile ballistic system. First tested in 2019, the missile is designed to be maneuverable and fly at low altitudes, potentially improving their chances of evading and defeating missile systems.
The North first launched these missiles from a train in September last year as part of its effort to diversify its launch options, which now include various vehicles and could eventually include submarines in country’s progress in achieving such capabilities.
Firing a missile from a train could add mobility, but some experts say North Korea’s simple rail networks running through its relatively small territory would be quickly destroyed by enemies during a crisis.
The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five North Koreans for their role in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs in its response to the North’s previous tests this month.
The Treasury Department’s announcement came just hours after North Korea said Kim oversaw a successful test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday that it said would significantly increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrent.” Tuesday’s test was North Korea’s second demonstration of its alleged hypersonic missile in a week.
Hours before Friday’s launch, the KCNA released a statement attributed to an unidentified spokesperson for the northern Foreign Ministry, which insisted that the new sanctions underscore the hostile intent of the United States to target to “isolate and suffocate” the North.
The spokesman warned of a stronger reaction if Washington continues its “confrontational stance”.
Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a crucial challenge to missile defenses due to their speed and maneuverability.
Such weapons were on a wish list of sophisticated military assets Kim unveiled early last year, along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles and nuclear missiles. launched by submarines.
Still, experts say North Korea would need years and more successful, longer-range tests before acquiring a credible hypersonic system.
A US-led diplomatic push to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program collapsed in 2019 after the Trump administration rejected North demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Kim has since pledged to further expand a nuclear arsenal that he clearly sees as his best guarantee of survival, despite major setbacks to the country’s economy due to pandemic-related border closures and lingering sanctions imposed by United States.
His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s call to resume dialogue without preconditions, saying the United States must first abandon its “hostile policy”, a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe the sanctions and combined US-Korean military exercises.