Flashpoints | Security | East Asia

North Korea Conducts 4th Missile Test in March 2020

Without Kim Jong Un’s apparent guidance, North Korea once again tested short-range missiles.

Ankit Panda
North Korea Conducts 4th Missile Test in March 2020
Credit: Rodong Sinmun

On Monday, North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency reported that the country had fired two missiles from “super-large multiple rocket launchers” during a test conducted on Sunday. According to South Korean authorities, two missiles were launched, marking the seventh and eighth missile launches so far in 2020 — all of which have taken place in the month of March.

Sunday’s test was notable for apparently not featuring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has otherwise guided every other major military test and missile launch this month. Instead, Ri Pyong Chol, a senior North Korean official thought to lead the country’s Munitions Industry Department, “guided” the event. Other prominent North Korean officials, including Jang Chang Ha and Jon Il Ho, were reported by state media to have been present. North Korea’s limited release of images from the test did not show any of the men present.

According to KCNA, Sunday’s test verified “once again the tactical and technological specifications of the launch system to be delivered to units of the Korean People’s Army.” The KCNA report said that the test was successful. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported on Sunday that the missiles flew into the East Sea/Sea of Japan, flying for 230 kilometers and reaching an apogee of 30 kilometers. The launches took place from near Wonsan, a city on North Korea’s eastern coast.

KCNA, paraphrasing Ri, said that the test showed that “the operational deployment of the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launchers is a crucial work of very great significance in realizing a new strategic intention of the Party Central Committee for national defense.” Previous testing of this system — known to the U.S. intelligence community as the KN25 — has emphasized that it is nearing deployment and would be delivered soon to the Korean People’s Army.

The report underscored that there had been difficulties, however, in getting these weapons to the Korean People’s Army. “Ri Pyong Chol learned about relevant problems arising in delivering the weapon system to the units of the People’s Army and set forth relevant tasks for the field of national defense science researches and munitions factories,” the KCNA report noted.

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North Korea’s other tests this month featured the KN25 and the KN24, a short-range ballistic missile system that resembles the United States’ MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The KN25, previously seen with four missile canisters on a transporter-erector-launcher at most launches, was seen in imagery released by North Korea Monday to feature six canisters. The new variant of the KN25 appeared to use a launcher chassis also used by the KN24.