North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has observed the test firing of a “new type of tactical guided weapon” aimed at boosting the country’s nuclear capabilities, according to state media.
The report early on Sunday came as South Korea and the United States warned that Pyongyang could soon resume nuclear testing and after Kim broke a self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing with a launch last month.
The Korean Central News Agency said the latest weapons test “is of great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes”.
It did not say when the test took place and gave no details of the missile involved.
Kim, who guided the test, “gave important instructions on further building up the defence capabilities and nuclear combat forces of the country,” it added.
Photos carried by the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a grinning Kim – surrounded by uniformed officials – applauding as he watched what it said was the test firing of the weapon.
South Korea’s military confirmed the weapons launch, saying early on Sunday that it had detected two projectiles launched from the North’s east coast towards the sea late on Saturday.
The projectiles flew about 110 kilometres (68 miles) with an apogee of 25km and a maximum speed of under Mach 4, it said.
Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the weapon was likely a short-range ballistic missile and the North’s first tactical nuclear weapon delivery system.
“This test of a tactical nuclear delivery system comes as indicators grow of significant reconstitutive work at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” he said.
The site, in the far northeast of the country, is where North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear tests.
It was closed in 2018 ahead of a first round of talks between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump.
Those talks collapsed in 2019.
Images captured by a commercial satellite in March showed signs of new activity at a tunnel there, and officials and analysts say North Korea may carry out its seventh nuclear test in the coming weeks.
Duyeon Kim, a North Korea expert at the US-based Center for a New American Security, said North Korea’s weapons tests tell its people that their country is strong.
She added that one reason for the timing of the latest test could be to protest against anticipated joint US-South Korea military drills, which are due to start on Monday.
US Special Representative Sung Kim is also due in Seoul on the same day for a five-day visit to discuss a response to the North’s recent missile launches with his South Korean counterparts.
The US has said it is open to talks with North Korea at any time and without conditions, but Pyongyang has so far rebuffed those overtures, accusing Washington of maintaining hostile policies such as sanctions and military drills.
The KCNA report on a new weapons test also came shortly after North Korea celebrated the 110th anniversary of the birth of late founder Kim Il Sung, one of the biggest annual public holidays in the country, but without a military parade.
South Korean officials have said Pyongyang could still stage a military parade or carry out a weapons test on or around April 25, the anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.