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North Korea acknowledges recent missile tests as Kim pays a visit to a key munitions plant

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un visits a munitions factory producing what state media KCNA says is a "major weapon system" at an undisclosed location in North Korea, in this photo released January 28, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE

North Korea conducted tests of an enhanced long-range cruise missile and a tactical guided missile warhead this week, according to state media KCNA, as leader Kim Jong Un toured a munitions facility manufacturing an “important weapon system.”

The news: Tensions have been rising in response to North Korea’s run of six nuclear tests in 2022, which were among the country’s most frequent missile launches in a month. The launches have sparked international censure and a new round of penalties from the US.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un visits a munitions factory producing what state media KCNA says is a “major weapon system” at an undisclosed location in North Korea, in this photo released January 28, 2022 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE.
  • On Tuesday, KCNA said that an update to a long-range cruise missile system was tested, and on Thursday, another test was conducted to check the power of a conventional warhead for a surface-to-surface tactical guided missile.
  • Kim was not there for the tests, but during a visit to the munitions factory, he praised the leaping progress in developing big weapons in order to carry out the governing Workers’ Party’s instructions at a meeting last month, according to a separate dispatch.
  • The weaponry or the location of the factory were not specified by KCNA. At that party session, Kim urged for strengthening national defences to deal with an unstable international scenario.
  • John Kirby, the press secretary for the US Department of Defense, termed the recent launches “destabilising” and urged Pyongyang to “cease these provocations.”
  • The European Union also issued a statement saying the tests posed a threat to international and regional peace and security and undermine efforts to resume dialogue and help the country’s people.
A combination image shows a missile test that state media KCNA says was conducted this week at undisclosed locations in North Korea, in this photo released January 28, 2022 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE

What’s going on: KCNA provided photos of Kim wearing a black leather coat and suit and smiling during the factory visit, with the faces of certain officials blurred.

  • The factory appeared to be the February 11 plant at the Ryongsong Machine Complex in Hamhung, the country’s second largest city on its east coast, according to Jeffrey Lewis, a missile expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in the United States, citing similar double column vertical lathes seen in previous KCNA images, though repainted.
  • The facility appeared to have been remodelled, but Lewis noted on Twitter that a large metal tube within a flow forming machine in a new hall where Kim was seen appeared to be a motor case for a KN-23 or other SRBM.
  • Two long-range cruise missiles flew 1,800 kilometres (1,118 miles) for 9,137 seconds and targeted a target island off the east coast in Tuesday’s test, according to KCNA.
  • The two tactical guided missiles tested on Thursday also hit the target exactly and demonstrated the destructive capability of their warhead as intended, according to the report.
  • A long-range missile launched from a transporter-erector-launcher gushed flames before igniting a fire on an island, according to KCNA photographs. A shorter-range missile was seen ascending into the sky atop a cloud of dust and then striking an island in additional photographs.
  • Both tests were detected, and the short-range missiles flew for around 190 kilometres (118 miles) to a height of 20 kilometres (12.4 miles).
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un visits a munitions factory producing what state media KCNA says is a “major weapon system” at an undisclosed location in North Korea, in this photo released January 28, 2022 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE.

In addition: North Korea has tested tactical guided missiles, two “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and manoeuvrability after lift-off, and a railway-borne missile system just this month.

  • Pyongyang is likely to increase pressure and possibly fire an ICBM or other powerful weapon when it commemorates the 80th and 110th birthdays of Kim’s late father and grandfather in February and April, both major holidays in the country, according to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
  • “The ongoing string of tests should be aimed at highlighting the North’s increasingly diverse missile arsenal, and essentially staging a show of force against the United States,” he said.
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