Flashpoints | Security | East Asia

North Korea Launches 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles

The tests featured a new type of short-range ballistic missile system known to U.S. authorities as the KN24.

Ankit Panda
North Korea Launches 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles
Credit: Rodong Sinmun

On Saturday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the country’s armed forces had tracked two North Korean short-range ballistic missile launches into the Sea of Japan. The launches took place in the morning from a launch site near North Korea’s Sonchon county in North Pyongan province. The launches were five minutes apart, with the first at 6:45 a.m. and the second at 6:50 a.m. local time.

The two missiles flew to a range of around 410 kilometers, with a maximum in-flight altitude of 50 kilometers. The tests followed two other test events earlier this month that featured testing of a large-caliber close-range ballistic missile system, known as the KN25, in joint artillery drills. The missiles launched Saturday struck an island off North Korea’s East Coast.

On Sunday, North Korean state media confirmed that Kim Jong Un, the country’s leader, had overseen a “demonstration fire.” Images released showed that the system tested on Saturday was what U.S. intelligence agencies called the KN24, a short-range ballistic missile that bears an outward resemblance to the U.S. Army’s MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).

The United States and South Korea are still analyzing the launch. “South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing other specifics,” the South Korean Joint Chief of Staff said. “Our military is monitoring the situation in case there are additional launches and maintaining a readiness posture.”

According to the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s outward-facing state media, the test “was aimed at reconfirming and showing to the KPA commanding officers the tactical characters and power of a new weapon system to be delivered to KPA units.” The KPA is the Korean People’s Army, or the North Korean Workers’ Party’s armed forces.

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The test was successful, according to the North Korean account. “The fire clearly proved the characters of different flight trajectories and falling angles, accuracy of guided shells and their power,” the KCNA report said.

For the first time since a high-level Workers’ Party address in December 2019, North Korean state media referred to a “strategic weapon” system that was still in development. According to KCNA, these weapons — some of which have yet to be tested — “will make decisive contributions to the realization of the Party’s strategic plan to make a radical change in the national defense strategy.”

North Korea conducted two large-scale engine tests at its Sohae liquid propellant engine test stand in December 2019. It has not tested any nuclear-capable systems since the October 2019 inaugural test of the Pukguksong-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile, North Korea’s longest-range solid fuel missile to date. Solid propellants are useful in increasing the flexibility and responsiveness of missile systems, obviating the need for fueling before fire as with most liquid propellant missiles.