North Korea’s New Cruise Missile: What’s Different from Last Year’s?
The North’s military improved the weight of the missile
Last year, they revealed a tactical nuclear warhead
Possibly capable of carrying Hwasan-31
As North Korea announced the test launch of a new strategic cruise missile, there’s growing interest in the differences from the cruise missile launched last year.
Lee Seong Jun, the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Public Affairs Office, said at a regular briefing at the Ministry of National Defense on January 25, “The cruise missile launched by North Korea yesterday had a somewhat shorter flight distance compared to past launches,” and “We are assessing it as an improvement of the performance of the existing cruise missile. Details are being analyzed by the US and South Korean intelligence authorities.”
North Korea’s state-run media, the Korean Central News Agency, reported on January 25, “The Missile General Bureau of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted the first test launch of a new strategic cruise missile, Pulhwasal-3-31, which is under development.”
Given that North Korea has named strategic cruise missiles Arrow-1 and Arrow-2, Pulhwasal suggests the possibility of improving the performance of the existing weapon system, according to the military authorities.
Director Lee said, “Considering that they have improved the performance of the existing cruise missile and changed its name, I think it might be an extension.”
The number “31” hints at a connection with the tactical nuclear warhead Hwasan-31 that North Korea unveiled last year, suggesting the need to pay attention to the possibility of a nuclear warhead.
Several experts had previously put forward the assessment that the Arrow-1 and Arrow-2 could carry Hwasan-31 based on the photos released by North Korea.
When asked whether North Korea had conducted an airburst test using a cruise missile, Director Lee said, “We detected and tracked the cruise missile launched by North Korea in real-time,” but “it disappeared at the final point. Further analysis is needed to understand what happened.”
North Korea had previously conducted various airburst tests of nuclear missiles and even released photos. Given that Kim Yo Jong, Deputy Department Director of the Publicity and Information Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, suggested the possibility of a nuclear attack on Seoul, the related test was interpreted as training for mass casualties and infrastructure paralysis in major cities. A strong electromagnetic wave is generated when a nuclear weapon explodes in the air, causing electronic devices and power telecommunications networks to malfunction.
If an airburst-related test was conducted during this cruise missile provocation, it could be assessed that North Korea has reaffirmed its will to launch a nuclear attack targeting major cities such as Seoul.
North Korea conducted an ‘educational demonstration shooting of a nuclear airburst strike method’ with a ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missile in March last year (archive photo). ⓒKorean Central News Agency
Meanwhile, North Korea has highlighted the legitimacy of this provocation. They claim this provocation “did not impact the safety of neighboring countries.”
However, it is pointed out that it is merely an excuse for North Korea, which has publicly declared that it will occupy South Korea using nuclear weapons in the event of a war, to test a weapon system with a high possibility of a new nuclear missile and claim that it is “irrelevant to the regional situation.”