North Korea Claims New Missile Carries ‘Super-Large Warhead,’ But Experts Cast Doubt On Assertion

July 2, 2024 by No Comments

North Korea announced on Tuesday that it had successfully tested a new tactical ballistic missile capable of carrying a “super-large warhead.” However, South Korean officials and experts quickly disputed this claim, speculating that the North likely fabricated a successful test to disguise a failed launch.

This is the second time in recent days that South Korea has questioned North Korea’s claims regarding new weapons development, as tensions between the two nations escalate due to North Korea’s ongoing testing activities.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Monday’s test involved the Hwasongpho-11 Da-4.5 missile, which can carry a 4.5 ton-class warhead. The agency stated that the test aimed to verify the weapon’s flight stability and accuracy at a maximum range of 310 miles and a minimum range of 55 miles.

This test apparently refers to the two launches that South Korea reported North Korea conducted on Monday.

Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Lee Sung Joon stated at a briefing on Tuesday that the second North Korean missile was found to have fallen on an uninhabited area near Pyongyang, the North’s capital. He noted that he could recall few previous North Korean test launches that targeted ground sites.

“Regarding the North Korean assessment, we’re weighing a possibility of deception,” Lee said.

The South Korean military has indicated that the second North Korean missile potentially exhibited abnormal behavior during the initial stage of its flight. It suggested that if the missile had exploded, debris would likely have scattered across the ground.

The KCNA dispatch did not disclose the launch site or landing location of the new missile. Unlike previous weapons tests, North Korea also did not release any photos of Monday’s test. The fact that it tested both the maximum and minimum ranges of the missile suggests that North Korea conducted two launches.

KCNA, citing North Korea’s Missile Administration, reported that North Korea will conduct another test launch of the missile later in July to verify the performance of its simulated warhead at a medium range of 155 miles.

Some experts suggest that test-firing missiles at ground targets could be related to efforts to assess the effectiveness of powerful warheads in destroying underground bunkers and structures.

However, Shin Jongwoo, a Seoul-based military expert, stated that the absence of any photos from the launches makes it highly likely that the North is attempting to deceive outsiders to cover up Monday’s failed launches. He believes that North Korea likely launched an existing missile on Monday, not the new missile as claimed.

Yang Uk, an analyst at Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said that Monday’s tests reflected North Korea’s pursuit of a diverse range of conventional weapons. But he also pointed out that if North Korea had truly succeeded in hitting a ground target, it would have likely published related images to boast about its achievements, as it has done in the past.

Since 2022, North Korea has significantly accelerated its weapons testing activities with the goal of expanding its nuclear arsenal. The ranges claimed by North Korea for the newly tested missile imply a target of South Korea. Experts believe that North Korea ultimately aims to utilize an expanded weapons arsenal to increase its leverage in future diplomatic negotiations with the U.S.

On June 26, North Korea launched what it described as a new multiwarhead missile in the first known test of a developmental weapon intended to penetrate its rivals’ missile defenses. North Korea claimed the launch was successful, but South Korea dismissed this claim as a deception to . South Korea asserted that the weapon exploded, scattering debris in the waters off the North’s east coast.

Also on Tuesday, South Korea conducted live-fire drills near the heavily fortified land border with North Korea. This was the first such drill since the South suspended a 2018 agreement with the North aimed at reducing front-line military tensions in early June. Last week, South Korea carried out similar firing exercises near its disputed western sea boundary with North Korea.

These back-to-back South Korean exercises could potentially prompt North Korea, which has also stated it will no longer be bound by the 2018 pact, to take provocative actions at border areas.

Meanwhile, during a four-day key ruling party meeting that concluded on Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un asserted that his country’s economic and food situations have improved. He presented officials with tasks to maintain steady economic development, according to KCNA’s report on Tuesday. The report did not mention whether the meeting addressed any security or foreign policy issues.