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Railway-borne missile test by North Korea escalates tensions with U.S.

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

North Korea fired a railway-borne missile during its firing drills on Friday, according to official media KCNA on Saturday, amid a U.S. drive for further penalties against the isolated country following a series of nuclear tests.

The news: The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea claimed two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) were launched eastward on North Korea’s northwest coast and travelled around 430 kilometres (267 miles) to a maximum height of 36 kilometres (22 miles).

  • The official KCNA news agency did not identify the range or trajectory of the missiles, but stated a shooting drill was held in North Pyongan Province to “check and appraise the proficiency in the railway-borne regiment’s operational procedures.”
  • North Korea has launched three ballistic missiles in an extremely quick series of weapons tests since New Year’s Day. The last two tests used hypersonic missiles capable of great speeds and manoeuvrability after launch.
  • North Korea criticised the U.S. for pursuing more sanctions in response to its recent missile launches, calling it a “provocation” and threatening a harsh retaliation, only hours before the next test drill.
  • On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration launched its first penalties against Pyongyang, calling on the United Nations Security Council to place numerous North Korean individuals and entities on a no-fly list.
  • North Korea has justified its missile launches as a sovereign right to self-defence, accusing the U.S. of deliberately aggravating the situation by imposing fresh sanctions.
  • The practise was not attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The test had been ordered by military leadership.
  • According to KCNA, the system demonstrated great manoeuvrability and strike rate, and its success prompted negotiations to build up proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country.
  • North Korea’s weapons systems have been progressively improving, boosting the stakes for delayed talks aimed at reducing its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in exchange for U.S. sanctions relief.

What they’re saying: During a phone chat on Saturday, South Korean Chung Eui-yong and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticised the latest launch and coordinated reactions to the North’s recent missile launches, according to the State Department.

  • According to Seoul’s foreign ministry, both sides emphasised the need of maintaining a strong unified readiness posture and urged Pyongyang to return to the bargaining table.
  • The test, according to Cheong Seong-chang, director of North Korean research at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, could be an “immediate exhibition of force” in response to US sanctions, given that it was not scheduled in advance and occurred in the afternoon.
  • “It’s a warning that if Washington presses for sanctions for testing non-long-range missiles, they’ll take a ‘eye to eye’ approach,” Cheong added.

In addition: KCNA provided photos of a missile that was launched from the top of an olive-green train in a hilly location, trailing a column of smoke and flame before arrowing down on a small island, kicking up a cloud of smoke and debris as it hit.

  • Despite North Korea’s limited and occasionally faulty rail network, analysts say rail mobile missiles are a relatively inexpensive and effective way to boost the survivability of their nuclear forces by making it difficult for adversaries to detect and destroy them before they are fired.
  • North Korea looks to have shot KN-23 SRBMs, which were also test fired in September and went 800 kilometres, according to Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korean Navy officer who now teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University (497 miles).
  • The KN-23, which was first tested in May 2019, looks similar to Russia’s Iskander-M SRBM and is meant to elude missile defences and conduct pinpoint strikes, according to specialists.

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