Seoul, Washington Stumped by N.Korean Missile Launch

  • By Cho Yi-jun, Yang Seung-sik, Yoon Hyung-jun

    April 19, 2019 11:07

    The U.S., South Korea and Japan are scrambling to identify a "tactical guided weapon" that North Korea tested on Wednesday in a launch that seems to have taken all three by surprise.

    Experts said it was probably a short-range missile, which would mark the end of North Korea's moratorium on nuclear and missile tests. "We are closely analyzing what the new weapon was," a military spokesman here said without elaborating.

    North Korean state media said leader Kim Jong-un watched the launch of the "new tactical guided weapon" and said the renegade country's scientists "can make any weapon if they set their minds on it."

    The North halted tests after firing a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017.

    According to military sources, the missile appears to have flown at a low altitude and for a short distance. If its trajectory was steeper, it would have been detected by South Korea's Israeli-made Green Pine early-warning radars as well as U.S. and Japanese radars, but a military source here admitted it was not.

    That means it was probably a short-range, tactical-guided missile similar to the Israeli Spike, which has a maximum range of 20 to 30 km. The Spike was originally developed as an anti-tank weapon, but is capable of striking ships, coastal artillery positions and other maritime targets.

    Alternatively it may have been a Russian Iskander-class short-range ballistic missile that North Korea unveiled at a military parade in February 2018. The SS-26 Iskander missile has a range of 500 km and is difficult to shoot down with Patriot or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries due to its unique trajectory.

    But if the new missile flew more than 200 to 300 km, it should have been detected by radar.

    Kwon Young-soo, formerly of the Korea National Defense University, said North Korea could have drastically reduced the range for the test.

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