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North Korea fires short-range missiles

25 July 2019 Jane's Editorial Staff

Dr Lee Willett, editor of Jane's Weapons: Strategic,

North Korea launched into the East Sea/Sea of Japan on 25 July what South Korea described as two "short-range missiles".

Pyongyang has not yet released information on the reported test, and little information still remains publicly available on the short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) system reported to be involved, so the test firings raise as many questions as they answer.

The Yonhap news agency reported that, of the two missiles launched, one travelled for around 430 km and the other around 690 km. This raises the question of whether the second missile was an improved variant.

There have been reports claiming that the missiles used were the KN-23 SRBM (which is the South Korean designator). If the missile type used today was the KN-23, it is possible the missile is the same as (or a variant of) a missile that was first paraded in February 2018 and first test fired in May 2019. The missile has similarities to Russia's 9M723 missile used within its Iskander family of missile systems. However, in the absence of images yet released by North Korea, assessment is limited.

From new SRBMs (that fall into the range bracket of 300-1,000 km) up to new intercontinental ballistic missiles (with ranges of 5,500 km or greater) - such as the Hwaseong-15, a system still reported to be in development but one that the US has stated can reach the US homeland - North Korea has tested new ballistic missiles across the spectrum of range and capability. That testing evidently is continuing, despite hopes generated in 2018 that the United States and North Korea would progress talks about Korean peninsula security, including the elimination of North Korea's nuclear capability. Today's tests are North Korea's first since the two countries' leaders met in June in the demilitarised zone and agreed to resume the stalled talks.

More broadly, the tests reiterate for the US Administration that negotiating an agreement to eliminate North Korea's nuclear and wider ballistic missile capability will be very difficult.

While the second half of 2017 and early 2018 was dominated by a flurry of North Korean nuclear and wider ballistic missile developments, including the possible emergence of this particular SRBM, the rest of 2018 saw international optimism develop that progress could be made in building security on the Korean peninsula, as the two governments took the first steps to engage in talks.

However, the complexity of reaching any such agreement - especially given the significant strategic importance of the issues at stake to both North Korea and the United States - was underlined earlier this week when South Korea responded to reported incursions into its airspace by Russian and Chinese aircraft by firing warning shots. One of North Korea's key principles in its negotiating position with the United States over nuclear matters is that the US must stop all military exercises in the region. Yet the United States has a strategic commitment to South Korea, and maintaining and exercising military presence there is central to that commitment; the alleged aircraft incursions demonstrate that South Korea has other security issues to address than just its relations with North Korea.

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