North Korea conducted an intensive series of missile launches in September and October. Until now, there had been no announcement from North Korea regarding the details of these launches, but on October 10, the state media, the Labour Party Newspaper and the Korean Central News Agency, reported an official statement on these launches and at the same time published a large number of photos.
The contents were truly astonishing. The following is a summary.
Missile launched from underwater
(1) Underwater-launched nuclear missile from a dam reservoir
The September 25th short-range missile was a launch exercise from a dam reservoir. The missile was an underwater-launched KN-23, a short-range ballistic missile that flies by leaping and gliding at low altitude. Since it is short-range, the target is limited to South Korea, but by flying at low altitude on an irregular trajectory, it is intended to evade missile defenses.
It is also believed that by hiding underwater, the missile aims to survive attacks from U.S. and South Korean forces in a contingency. Note that this missile has already been tested for launch from a submarine in October 2021, so it is not a new type of missile.
Missile that flew over Japan
The missile that flew over Japan was a new type of missile.
The medium-range missile that flew over Japan on October 4 was announced as a “new type of surface-to-surface medium- and long-range ballistic missile. It was a new type of missile that had never been fired before. The photos showed that it was almost the same size as the “Mars-12,” an intermediate-range ballistic missile that had already been fired many times and declared to be deployed in actual warfare, but the control mechanism of the rocket jet firing section was different, and the shape of the warhead was also different. It is assumed that some kind of modification was made to the missile.
(3) Short-range missiles are used for actual training of nuclear missile units
Including the above two launches, the seven missile launches from September 25 to October 9 are clearly described as “launch training for the Tactical Nuclear Operations Force,” and the series of launches is positioned as a strengthening of the nuclear deterrent force against the United States. In other words, the nuclear forces are now at the stage where they are training to operate short-range missiles for use against South Korea on the assumption that they will be used in actual combat.
However, of the five short-range missile launch exercises out of a total of seven, only one was clearly labeled as “nuclear missile operation training,” while the other four were not clearly labeled as nuclear. The other four drills were not clearly labeled as nuclear. Therefore, while the entire series of units are designated as nuclear missile units, it is highly likely that only some of the short-range missiles are positioned as practical nuclear missiles at this time, probably due to the weight of the nuclear bombs.
Successful miniaturization of nuclear bombs?
However, in April 2022, North Korea launched a new small, short-range ballistic missile, which it announced was intended to carry nuclear weapons. In other words, it is possible that some progress has been made in miniaturizing the nuclear bomb.
Of all this information, the most notable military threat is still nuclear capability.
North Korea’s medium- and long-range ballistic missiles have been developed with the assumption that they would carry nuclear weapons as a deterrent force against the United States, but many of the short-range missiles that could reach South Korea were relatively small. However, the units that operate those short-range missiles are also considered nuclear-operated units. The plan appears to be to further miniaturize nuclear bombs so that a wide variety of short-range missiles can be used as nuclear missiles as well.
Kim Jong-Un’s approach appears to include a nuclear test to demonstrate the miniaturization of nuclear bombs. This is because miniaturization would greatly enhance the capabilities of the tactical nuclear forces.
In January 2021, Kim Jong-Un announced a five-year national defense plan in which he declared an ambitious enhancement of nuclear capabilities, the most important of which is, of course, the nuclear test. In January 2022, Kim Jong-Un effectively declared the resumption of nuclear and ICBM testing, which had been frozen for some time.
Immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine in February of the following year and Russia and the U.S. entered into a clearly hostile relationship, Kim Jong-un accelerated the restoration of Tunnel No. 3 at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, completing it by around June. The restoration of Tunnel No. 4 followed. It is believed that a nuclear test is already possible at any time.
Jong-un is “aware.”
In its October 10 statement, North Korea condemned the military exercises conducted by the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. In particular, it criticizes the U.S. and justifies itself by saying that it needs to increase its own nuclear deterrent capability to counter the U.S. threat.
However, looking back at Kim Jong-Un’s words and actions, such as the aforementioned five-year plan in January 2021 and his declaration of the resumption of nuclear and ICBM tests in January 2020, it is likely that the U.S.-South Korea-Japan military exercises are just a pretext, and even if they were not, North Korea Even if there had been no such drills, North Korea would have conducted missile launch drills like this one. This is because the actual training of nuclear missile units is a natural step that Kim Jong-Un has taken in strengthening his nuclear capability against the U.S.
Moreover, as mentioned above, the current situation in Ukraine creates a convenient situation for North Korea to fend off U.S. pressure.
In this way, Kim Jong-Un is not lying, but is steadily proceeding with what he has declared in his own words. Taking advantage of the international situation, he has been rapidly and successfully developing his nuclear missiles into a realistic weapon for the survival of his dictatorship.
Compared with the same dictator, for example, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is currently putting Russia in a difficult situation by giving priority to his own “strong feelings” and making errors in judgment, Kim Jong-Un, who became a dictator by hereditary succession, is more “rational” and cunning in a very bad way for his own self-preservation. In comparison, Kim Jong-un, a hereditary dictator, is “rational” and cunning in a very bad sense for his own protection.
Reporting and writing： Fumitaro Kuroi Photo courtesy of： Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP/Afro