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31 January 2024

North Korea: Long-range missiles were tested to sharpen attack capabilities

31 January 2024

North Korea said it fired long-range cruise missiles in a test to sharpen its counterattack and strategic strike capabilities.

The test-firing was the isolated state’s latest display of weapons threatening neighbouring nations South Korea and Japan.

Wednesday’s report by North Korean state media came a day after South Korea’s military detected the North firing multiple cruise missiles into waters off its western coast, the third launch of such weapons this month.

The event extended a provocative streak in weapons testing as North Korea continues to raise pressure on the United States and its Asian allies amid a prolonged freeze in diplomacy.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the weapon tested on Tuesday was the Hwasal-2 and the launch did not affect the security of neighbours.

The report did not specify the exact numbers of missiles fired or the specifics of their flight performance.

The North has previously described the Hwasal-2 as nuclear-capable and said their range is up to 1,242 miles, a distance within reach of US military bases in Japan.

North Korea in recent years has been expanding its line-up of cruise missiles, which are designed to be fired from both land and naval assets.

These weapons supplement the country’s huge line-up of ballistic missiles, including short-range solid-fuel missiles aimed at overwhelming missile defences in South Korea and intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the US mainland.

Since 2021, North Korea has conducted at least 11 rounds of tests of what it described as long-range cruise missiles fired from both land and sea.

The North’s two previous tests of cruise missiles on January 24 and January 28 were of a new weapon called Pulhwasal-3-31, which is designed to be fired from submarines.

Following that weapon’s second launch on Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reiterated his goal of building a nuclear-armed navy to counter what he described as growing external threats.

The North on January 14 also tested a new solid-fuel intermediate-range missile, which underscored its efforts to advance its weapons that could target US assets in the Pacific, including the military hub of Guam.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, after Mr Kim accelerated his weapons development to an unprecedented pace while issuing provocative nuclear threats against the US, South Korea and Japan.

The US and its Asian allies in response have strengthened their combined military exercises and updated their deterrence strategies.

There are concerns that Mr Kim, emboldened by the steady advancement of his nuclear arsenal and strengthened ties with Russia, would further ramp up pressure against his rivals in an election year in the US and South Korea.

Experts say Mr Kim’s long-term goal is to force the US to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiate security concessions and sanctions relief from a position of strength.

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