SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea has been using satellite subterfuge to test parts of a so-called “monster” missile, analysts say, as it gears up for a sanctions-shattering launch ahead of a key domestic anniversary.
Pyongyang has conducted a record nine weapons tests so far this year, in what experts see as an effort to work through a laundry list of strategic weapons set out by leader Kim Jong-un.
One top priority is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can carry multiple warheads – the Hwasong-17, dubbed a “monster missile” and first unveiled at a parade in October 2020.
It has never been test-fired – but Washington said on Thursday Pyongyang had recently tested parts of it disguised as a satellite.
North Korea has been observing a self-imposed moratorium on testing long range and nuclear weapons, but with talks stalled and sanctions still in place, it seems close to tearing it up.
“I think the moratorium is as good as over. We should expect to see a return to ICBM testing,” said security analyst Ankit Panda.
The tests of purported “reconnaissance satellite” components on February 27 and March 5 were likely the Hwasong-17, possibly the technology to “carry and deliver multiple warheads”, he said.
“North Korea hasn’t demonstrated the latter capability before, even if it has tested ICBMs capable of ranging the United States three times,” he said.
North Korea’s renewed determination to test an ICBM comes at a delicate time in the region, with a new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, set to take control in South Korea.