SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea fired two medium-range ballistic missiles yesterday, Seoul’s military said, days after Pyongyang announced a successful test of a solid-fuel motor for a new weapons system.
Military tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen sharply this year as Pyongyang has carried out an unprecedented blitz of weapons tests, including the launch of its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile ever last month.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected two medium-range ballistic missiles that had been fired from the Tongchang-ri area in North Pyongan province.
The missiles were fired from 11.13am to 12.05pm into the East Sea, it said, referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.
They were fired on a “lofted” trajectory and flew around 500 kilometres, JCS said in a statement, adding South Korean and United States (US) intelligence were analysing the launch “in consideration of recent trends related to North Korea’s missile development”.
Tongchang-ri is home to a major rocket launch site, where the North tested a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor” on Thursday, with state media describing it as an important test “for the development of another new-type strategic weapon system”.
The South’s military “strongly” condemned yesterday’s launch, calling it a “serious provocation” and a “clear violation” of United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions.
“Our military will maintain a firm readiness posture based on the ability to carry out an overwhelming response to any provocations by North Korea,” it added.
Despite heavy international sanctions over its weapons programmes, Pyongyang has built up an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
All its known ICBMs are liquid-fuelled, however, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has placed strategic priority on developing solid-fuel engines for more advanced missiles.
Liquid-fuel rockets are notoriously difficult to operate and take a long time to prepare for launch, making them slower and easier for the enemy to spot and destroy.
The more mobile solid-fuel missiles have a much shorter prep time, and are harder to detect before launch.
A wishlist Kim revealed last year included solid-fuel ICBMs that could be launched from land or submarines.
The latest motor test was a step towards that goal, but it is not clear how far North Korea has come in the development of such a missile, analysts said.
The isolated country’s policy direction for next year will be laid out at a key party meeting later this month.