SEOUL: North Korea said on Wednesday its latest ballistic missile tests trailed detonation devices for possible nuclear strikes on US targets in South Korea and were personally monitored by supreme leader Kim Jong-un.
Tuesday’s test firing of three missiles in violation of existing UN resolutions was seen as an angry reaction to the planned deployment of a US missile defense system in the South.
The launch of the two Scud missiles and one intermediate-range Rodong was condemned by the United States, Japan and South Korea, who vowed a collective diplomatic response.
The tests were ordered and monitored by Kim Jong-un and the range of the missiles was limited to simulate pre-emptive attacks on South Korean ports and airfields hosting US military “hardware,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said.
The tests “examined the operational features of the detonating devices of nuclear warheads mounted on the ballistic rockets at the designated altitude over the target area,” it said.
According to the South Korean military, the two Scuds flew between 500 and 600 kilometers (310-370 miles) into the Sea of Japan, while the Rodong was fired about an hour later.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said the tests were “deeply troubling” and undermined efforts to reduce tension on the Korean peninsula.
UN resolutions prohibit North Korea from developing ballistic missile technology.
Pyongyang has repeatedly warned of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the South and US targets there and elsewhere, although the main focus of its nuclear weapons programmed is to develop a credible strike threat against the US mainland.
A series of missile tests this year aimed at backing up that threat led to the recent agreement between Seoul and Washington to deploy the sophisticated US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, in South Korea.
Last week, Pyongyang responded to the announcement by threatening to take “physical action.”
There are nearly 30,00 US troops permanently stationed in South Korea.
North Korea-US tensions had already been stoked by Pyongyang’s fury at Washington’s decision to personally target leader Kim with sanctions related to human rights abuses.
The North test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on July 9, following back-to-back tests of a powerful new medium-range missile on June 22.
Those two missiles achieved a significant increase in flight distance over previous failed launches and were believed to be of a much-hyped, intermediate-range “Musudan”—theoretically capable of reaching US bases as far away as Guam.
Since carrying out a fourth nuclear test in January, which prompted a significant tightening of UN sanctions, North Korea has claimed a series of technical breakthroughs for its weapons programmed.
It said it had miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile and successfully tested an engine designed for an inter-continental ballistic missile that could reach the US mainland.
While some experts say the claims are exaggerated, most acknowledge that the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs have made significant strides.
A US think-tank last week warned there was intense activity at a North Korean nuclear test site.
The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said images from July 7 of the Punggye-ri site showed what appear to be supplies or equipment stacked near the spot where the North conducted its fourth test.
The institute cautioned that it was not possible to determine whether this was maintenance or possible preparations for a fifth nuclear test.