KCNA via Reuters
- North Korea test-fired two suspected short-range ballistic missiles Thursday, which Seoul characterized as a "new type" of threat.
- US officials said North Korea appears to be shortening the time it takes to launch missiles, reducing the time the US and its allies have to detect a launch.
- Experts describe the weapons North Korea has been testing as potential first-strike weapons that could be used to start a war, given their ability to skirt defenses.
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North Korea tested a "new type" of missile on Thursday in the first test since President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Korean border last month.
Many observers quickly determined that the test was an attempt to get the Trump administration’s attention in the wake of several leadership summits that failed to produce an outcome desired by either side. Evidence from the past couple of months also seems to suggest that North Korea is strengthening its arsenal to counter regional threats to its offensive capabilities — the only cards it holds in ongoing nuclear negotiations.
North Korea twice in May tested a new short-range ballistic missile, a weapon known as the KN-23 which some have compared to Russia’s SS-26 Iskander. It is unclear if the weapons tested Thursday included a modified variant of this weapon or something else entirely.
KCNA via REUTERS
The North Koreans are "developing a reliable, operable missile that can defeat missile defenses and conduct a precision strike in South Korea," Grace Liu, a weapons expert at the Jams Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Reuters in May.
Jeffrey Lewis, another CNS expert, suggested at that time that the weapon’s maneuverability seemed to indicate it was designed to skirt missile defenses, such as the Patriot and THAAD batteries deployed in South Korea.
Looking at the missiles tested Thursday, US officials told Reuters that their preliminary analysis indicated the weapons were similar to the ones tested in May but noted that the latest test appeared to involve missiles with enhanced capabilities.
One official revealed that North Korea appeared to be decreasing the time it takes to launch missiles, thus reducing the time the US and its allies have to detect a launch. North Korea has repeatedly demonstrated an interest in solid-fueled missiles like the KN-23, weapons that can be fueled in advanced and launched quickly for surprise attacks.
The missiles launched Thursday reached an altitude of only about 30 miles, an altitude generally consistent with previous tests of the KN-23.
"If it’s very low and very fast, that shortens warning and decision time," Adam Mount, director of the Defense Posture Project with the Federation of American Scientists, told CNN. "Those kinds of things could be useful in a retaliatory situation, but it’s even more relevant for a first strike."
Melissa Hanham, another well-known missile expert, told Reuters in May, that the types of weapons North Korea is testing, weapons deemed by the Trump administration to be less important than the intercontinental ballistic missiles the country was building and testing in 2017, are the types of weapons "that will start the war."
South Korea described Thursday’s missile test "as a military threat and an action undermining efforts to alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula," CNN reported.
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