North Korea claims ballistic missile test with ‘superlarge warhead’

South Korean military says Pyongyang’s claim of successful launch ‘likely to be false’.

North Korea has said it successfully tested a new tactical ballistic missile capable of carrying a 4.5-tonne “superlarge warhead”, state media reported.

The test of the Hwasongpho-11 Da-4.5 missile was conducted to verify its flight stability and hit accuracy at the maximum range of 500km (310 miles) and minimum range of 90km (55 miles), Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Tuesday.

A day earlier, South Korea’s military reported the launch of two ballistic missiles by North Korea and said the second likely failed soon after it was fired, blowing up in flight over land.

The KCNA report made no mention of the second missile. It also did not elaborate on the nature of the simulated warhead, where the missile launched from and where it landed.

North Korea did not publicise Monday’s test with photographs, unlike during previous such announcements. Testing the missile’s maximum and minimum ranges suggested it performed two launches.

The report of the test was likely “deception”, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) told a press briefing on Tuesday, as one of them appeared to have failed in the early stages of flight.

That missile’s trajectory suggested a possible midair explosion over North Korea which could have led to debris falling on the country, Seoul’s military said.

“It is extremely rare for test launches to be conducted inland, and the claim that they succeeded in such a launch is likely to be false,” JCS spokesperson Lee Sung-joon said.

One of the two missiles was flying abnormally and appeared to show up in a field not far from the capital, Pyongyang, South Korea’s military said.

Shin Jongwoo, a Seoul-based military expert, told The Associated Press news agency that the lack of photos also raised some questions about the success of the test.

The Hwasongpho-11 is a series of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) developed by the North that are otherwise known as KN-23 and KN-24.

The KN-23 is likely the missile that North Korea has supplied to Russia and was used in the war against Ukraine, according to Ukrainian authorities who examined debris from missiles launched by Russia since December.

North Korea and Russia deny any arms trade. In June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised “full support and solidarity” for Russia’s war in Ukraine as President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang and the two sides signed a treaty that included a mutual defence agreement.

The reported launch comes as the South Korean military conducted artillery drills at ranges within 5km (3 miles) of the Military Demarcation Line inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on Tuesday morning, an army official said.

Pyongyang’s Missile Administration will also conduct another launch of the same type of missile this month to test the “explosion power” of the superlarge warhead, KCNA said in a rare disclosure of a future missile launch plan.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies