North Korea fires two apparent short-range ballistic missiles toward East Sea

The launches mark North Korea’s sixth round of weapon tests already this year.

Ji Da-gyum

Ji Da-gyum

The Korea Herald


(File Photo - Yonhap)

January 27, 2022

SEOUL – North Korea on Thursday fired two apparent short-range ballistic missiles at a low altitude from a seashore city in South Hamgyong Province toward its east coast.

“We are aware of the ballistic missile launches and are consulting closely with our allies and partners,” the US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement, adding the launch does not pose an “immediate threat” to US personnel, territory or allies.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military had “detected two projectiles, which are presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles, being launched northeast from the Hamhung city area toward the East Sea at around 08:00 and 08:05 a.m.”

The two missiles flew around 190 kilometers at a top altitude of 20 kilometers, the JCS said, adding that South Korean and US intelligence authorities are analyzing the specifications.

“Our military maintains readiness posture in preparation for additional launches while tracking and keeping close tabs on related (North Korean) movements.”

A South Korean military official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the two projectiles are presumed to have hit a target on the small uninhabited island of Al, in light of flying distance and altitude.

North Korea previously set a target on the same island when firing the KN-23 and KN-24 short-range ballistic missiles on Jan. 14 and 17.

Seoul also detected signs of a launch preparation in the area, according to the official.

Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said North Korea could intend to test weapon capability to evade and penetrate ballistic missile defenses. In general, it is more challenging to detect and intercept missiles fired at lower altitudes.

“The (low-altitude) test flight could indicate a change in North Korea’s established pattern of missile attacks,” Shin told The Korea Herald. “The test could aim at the weak point of South Korea’s ballistic missile defense system.”

Recently launched missiles have notably enhanced survivability and maneuverability, which could eventually incapacitate the missile defenses of South Korea, the US and their allies.

This year, North Korea has fired four types of missiles including a new maneuverable reentry vehicle, which North Korea labeled a “hypersonic missile.”

Pyongyang also launched the KN-23 and KN-24 short-range ballistic missiles, which Seoul-based analysts view as dual-capable missiles able to deliver both conventional and nuclear payloads. North Korea on Tuesday also fired two suspected cruise missiles, which travel at a lower flight altitude than ballistic missiles.

Shin also said another goal of Thursday’s launch could be to test the accuracy of the weapons system in view of the short distance between Hamhung and the small island.

“North Korea could test the ability of a projectile precisely hitting a target while flying at a low altitude.”

Thursday’s launches mark North Korea’s sixth round of weapon tests already this year, with six ballistic missiles in four discrete launches conducted between Jan. 5 and Jan. 17 in short intervals.

Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the Korean Institute for National Unification, said Thursday’s launch is part of indications that North Korea has moved toward a “hard-line” foreign policy.

“But this is in line with North Korea’s move to gradually ratchet up (pressure) to raise its leverage in (potential) negotiations,” Cho told The Korea Herald.

“Pyongyang does not seem to intend to cross the red line at this juncture, as such an act would impose another burden on the country.”

Cho also noted that North Korea has sought to continue relatively low-profile weapons tests in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, pointing to the sequence of missile launches from a purportedly hypersonic missile to cruise missiles. Thursday’s flight distance is the shortest among this year’s launches.

“North Korea has taken steps to tone down ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics while making its presence felt,” Cho said.

“As the world’s eyes are still riveted on North Korea, the country appears to achieve its tactical goal. But North Korea would abstain from making high-profile provocations during the Winter Olympic Games.”

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