North Korea on Monday further defied UN sanctions by declaring its medium-range Pukguksong-2 missile ready for deployment and mass production after a weekend test, indicating more advances in the ability to hit US targets.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw Sunday’s launch.
Kim said “with pride” that the Pukguksong-2 was a “very accurate” missile and a “successful strategic weapon”, KCNA said, adding he “approved the deployment of this weapon system for action”.
The Pukguksong-2 uses solid fuel that allows for immediate firing, KCNA said, adding the launch “completely verified” the reliability and accuracy of the device, and its late-stage warhead guidance system.
According to the agency, test results were “perfect.”
Kim “said he was very happy to see pictures of the Earth taken by our rocket and that the world looks beautiful”, KCNA said, adding that he ordered the missile to be “rapidly mass-produced”.
So far almost all the North’s missiles have been liquid-fueled, which have to be painstakingly filled with propellant before launch, while solid fuel missiles can be fired far more rapidly.
That would dramatically shorten the time available for any attempt to intervene and prevent a launch, requiring any such decision to be taken much more quickly.
Seoul military officials have previously said the Pukguksong-2 — a land-based version of Pyongyang’s submarine-launched weapon — uses solid fuel.
The missile, which was described by Washington as medium-range, was fired from Pukchang in South Pyongan province and travelled about 500 kilometers before landing in the Sea of Japan, according to the South’s armed forces.
The rocket used a cold-launch system, KCNA said.
The technology uses compressed gas to propel a missile upwards before its engine ignites in mid-air. It is considered safer and also makes it easier to hide the launch location.
A spokesman for Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that South Korean and US intelligence authorities “assess that North Korea secured meaningful data in advancing the reliability of its missile technology through yesterday’s missile launch”.
But he added: “Our position is that the stable re-entry of the warhead needs more verification.”
The US, South Korea and Japan sharply denounced the launch and jointly requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which will be held Tuesday.
The launch came just one week after the North fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile, which according to Pyongyang was capable of carrying a “heavy” nuclear warhead”.
The launches, and a threatened sixth nuclear test, have fueled tension with the Trump administration, which has warned that military intervention was an option under consideration, sending fears of conflict spiraling.
But so far Washington has opted for sanctions and diplomatic pressure, while looking to China, the North’s closest ally, to help rein in Pyongyang.