North Korea Unveils New 'Super-Large' Multiple Rocket Launcher
(Source: The Korea Times; issued Aug 25, 2019)
North Korea used a wheeled transporter erector launcher (TEL) loaded with four tubes for its Aug. 24 launch of a long-range rocket, reported to be 380mm caliber, which South Korea said reached a range of 380 km. (KCNA photo)
North Korea has successfully developed a new "super-large" multiple rocket launcher, according to the country's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Sunday. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un observed a test-firing of two rockets the day before, which "proved that all the tactical and technological specifications of the system correctly reached the preset indexes," it said.

According to the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the rockets were fired from Sondok in South Hamgyong Province into the East Sea at around 6:45 a.m. and 7:02 a.m. They flew around 380 kilometers at an apogee of about 97 kilometers with the maximum speed reaching more than Mach 6.5.

The maximum altitude for the test was the highest of Pyongyang's missile and rocket launches this year.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University's Far East Institute said that it was likely that the North had upgraded what it described as a "newly developed large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system," tested twice on July 31 and Aug. 2.

Two rockets were fired each time and flew around 220 kilometers (Aug. 2) to 250 kilometers (July 31) at an apogee of about 25 kilometers (Aug. 2) and 30 kilometers (July 31), with the maximum speed being more than Mach 6.9 for the Aug. 2 launch ― the maximum speed was not announced for the July 31 launch.

"The photos released by North Korea show that the projectiles (fired on Aug. 24) have a similar appearance to the previous ones, comparing the overall shape, diameter, length and the shape of the wings in their foreparts," Kim said.

But he added there was still a possibility that the Aug. 24 test was of a completely different weapon system in that the KCNA described it as a "super-large" MRL unlike the other times when it used the expression "large-caliber."

North Korea used a wheeled transporter erector launcher (TEL) loaded with four torpedo tubes for Aug. 24 launch unlike previous launches on July 31 and Aug. 2 when it seemed to have used tracked TELs. The photos of the July 31 and Aug. 2 launches were pixelated by the North for some reason.

The KCNA Sunday report also highlighted Pyongyang's development of submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

"Saying August 24 is, indeed, an unforgettably good day, and that three years ago today we succeeded even in the underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missiles which only a few countries have in the world, he [Kim Jong-un] together with his dear comrades-in-arms recollected the unforgettable days of developing and completing strategic weapons while braving manifold trials," it said.

Meanwhile, the Aug. 24 launch marked Pyongyang's seventh test of missiles and MRLs over the past month since July 25 when it fired two KN-23 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), a modified version of a Russian Iskander.

North Korea's continuing weapons tests come amid many other layers of ongoing conflict among the North's surrounding countries, including Seoul-Tokyo trade and security row and the U.S.-China trade war.

South Korean government decided last Thursday not to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan, but Seoul's JCS said it has shared information regarding the North's Aug. 24 weapons test at Tokyo's request as the GSOMIA was still valid.

The Seoul-Tokyo intelligence sharing pact is set to expire in November, 90 days after the Aug. 24 deadline for the nullifying notification.

U.S. President Donald Trump has reiterated his "friendly" stance toward Pyongyang. Speaking to reporters outside the White House late Friday night (local time) before he departed for the G7 summit in France from Aug. 24 to 26, Trump said he keeps "a very good relationship" with the North Korean leader and Kim has been "straight" with him.

"[Kim Jong-un] likes testing missiles. But we never restricted short range missiles. We'll see what happens. Many nations test those missiles. We [the United States] tested a very big one the other day as you probably noticed," Trump said, referring to a modified ground-launched version of a Navy Tomahawk cruise missile test-fired off the coast of California on Aug. 18 (local time).

Meanwhile, it has to be seen what messages Pyongyang will send to Washington at the Supreme People's Assembly scheduled this week on Thursday.

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