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North Korea conducts first flight test of new strategic cruise missile to boost its military capabilities

Image Source : AP North Korea described the missile as “strategic,” implying an intent to arm them with nuclear weapons.

North Korea announced on Thursday that it conducted its first flight test of a new cruise missile, showcasing an expansion of its military capabilities amid escalating tensions with the United States and neighbouring countries. The state media report followed South Korea’s military statement, confirming the North’s firing of several cruise missiles into waters off its western coast. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff did not provide detailed assessments, such as the number of missiles launched or their flight characteristics.

According to North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, the ‘Pulhwasal-3-31 missile’ is currently in the developmental phase, and the launch is asserted not to pose a threat to neighbouring nations. The designation of the missile as “strategic” suggests an eventual intent to equip them with nuclear warheads.

North Korea’s second such launch this year

These cruise missile launches mark North Korea’s second known event of the year, following a January 14 test-firing of the country’s first solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile. This highlights North Korea’s ongoing efforts to enhance its arsenal, particularly targeting US military bases in Japan and Guam.

The cruise missiles add to North Korea’s array of weapons, strategically aimed at overwhelming missile defences in South Korea and Japan, complementing its extensive lineup of ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the US mainland.

While North Korean cruise missile activities aren’t directly banned under UN sanctions, experts say those weapons potentially pose a serious threat to South Korea and Japan. They are designed to be harder to detect by radar, and North Korea claims they are nuclear-capable and their range is up to 2,000 kilometres, a distance that would include US military bases in Japan. Since 2021, North Korea has conducted at least 10 rounds of tests of what it described as long-range cruise missiles fired from both land and sea.

North Korea continues to expands its military capabilities

Tensions in the region have increased in recent months as North Korea’s leader Kim-Jong-Un continues to accelerate his weapons development and make provocative threats of nuclear conflict with the United States and its Asian allies. In response, the US, South Korea and Japan have been expanding their combined military exercises, which Kim condemns as invasion rehearsals and uses as a pretext to further ramp up his military demonstrations.

There are concerns that Kim could dial up pressure in an election year in the United States and South Korea. South Korean experts and officials say Kim’s weapons drive has put further strain on a broken economy, decimated by decades of mismanagement and US-led sanctions over his nuclear ambitions.

In a separate report, KCNA said Kim during a two-day ruling party meeting held through Wednesday criticized officials for failures in sufficiently providing “basic living necessities including condiments, foodstuff and consumption goods” to people living in the countryside and less developed cities and towns.

Kim had called the meeting to discuss a 10-year project he announced last week to promote a more balanced regional development, which includes a goal of building modern factories in every county nationwide.

What do satellite images suggest? 

Recent satellite images examined by The Associated Press indicate that North Korea has dismantled a significant arch in its capital, a symbolic structure representing reconciliation with South Korea. This development comes just a week after Kim dismissed decades of hopes for peaceful reunification with the southern part of the war-divided peninsula.

North Korea’s supreme leader also characterised the Pyongyang monument as an “eyesore” and publicly called for its removal. He declared a departure from the long-standing goal of peaceful unification with South Korea, further instructing a revision of the North’s constitution to designate the South as its most hostile foreign adversary. Accusing South Korea of being “top-class stooges” of the Americans, Kim reiterated the threat to use nuclear weapons to annihilate the South in response to any provocation.

Meanwhile, analysts speculate that North Korea’s actions may be aimed at diminishing South Korea’s influence in the regional nuclear standoff, potentially seeking direct negotiations with Washington to solidify its nuclear status.

(With inputs from AP)

ALSO READ: South Korea accuses North of firing cruise missiles into waters near western coast

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