North Korea is testing cruise missiles designed to carry tactical nuclear weapons

North Korea is testing cruise missiles designed to carry tactical nuclear weapons

North Korea has tested two “long-range strategic cruise missiles” in the presence of leader Kim Jong Un, state media reported Thursday, adding that they were designed to carry tactical nuclear weapons.

In recent weeks, Kim Jong Un has overseen a series of ballistic missile launches, described by Pyongyang as tactical nuclear exercises simulating the destruction of airports and military installations in South Korea.

The launch of two cruise missiles on Wednesday is aimed at improving the combat effectiveness of these weapons, which have been “used in units of the Korean People’s Army for the use of tactical nuclear weapons,” the agency told North Korea’s official press KCNA on Thursday.

Those two projectiles, which flew at much lower altitudes than ballistic missiles, flew 2,000 kilometers over the Yellow Sea before hitting their target, KCNA said.

Northern leader Kim Jong Un expressed “great satisfaction” with the outcome of the tests, which aimed to show that the nuclear combat troops are “preparing for a real war” and send out a “clear warning to the enemies,” KCNA said.

With talks at a long stall and the conflict in Ukraine preventing the United Nations from passing new sanctions, Mr Kim has stepped up efforts to develop and test his banned nuclear arsenal.

Both Seoul and Washington have been warning for months of the danger of Pyongyang conducting a nuclear test that would be North Korea’s seventh.

The leader reiterated that North Korea “will focus all its efforts on the continuous and accelerated development of the national nuclear combat force,” the agency added on Thursday.

Cruise missile tests are not banned by the United Nations, unlike ballistic missile launches, which South Korea and Japan generally report on. Neither country reported Wednesday’s trial.

Kim Jong Un made acquiring tactical nuclear weapons — smaller, lighter weapons designed for use on the battlefield — a top priority at a key party congress in January 2021.

He pledged earlier this year to build up North Korea’s nuclear forces as soon as possible.

– “Probably less efficient” –

“This latest test means the North is operating a tactical nuclear capability on cruise missiles, which are more difficult to detect due to their low-altitude flight,” the Korea Institute’s Hong Min told AFP for national unity.

“It’s a testament to Pyongyang’s ability to launch nuclear warheads,” he added, noting that cruise missiles can also have erratic trajectories, making them more difficult to intercept.

Last month, the reclusive country revised its nuclear doctrine to allow for pre-emptive strikes.

In addition, Mr. Kim declared that North Korea was an “irreversible” nuclear power, ending any possibility of negotiation over its arsenal.

Since then, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have intensified their combined military drills, including twice deploying a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the region, provoking the wrath of Pyongyang, which has consistently denounced the drills as rehearsals for an invasion.

In response, the North staged “real war maneuvers” simulating strikes against South Korea’s ports, airports and military command facilities, the KCNA said Monday.

North Korea has tested “strategic” cruise missiles before, but this is the first time it has claimed they have a nuclear role and are operational.

But analysts question Pyongyang’s claims and say they have no evidence that the country has the ability to manufacture sufficiently small nuclear warheads.

“North Korea’s cruise missiles, air force and tactical nuclear weapons are probably far worse than the propaganda suggests,” said Professor Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha University in Seoul.

“The Kim regime is sometimes surprisingly transparent about weapons development goals, but it also tends to exaggerate strength and capabilities,” he said.


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