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NK tests missiles as US chained to anti-virus efforts

North Korea carries out a test of what appears to be a pair of ballistic missiles on Sunday. Experts say Pyongyang may have fired “new guided rockets” or “super-large rockets” launched weeks ago on March 2 and 9. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korea carries out a test of what appears to be a pair of ballistic missiles on Sunday. Experts say Pyongyang may have fired “new guided rockets” or “super-large rockets” launched weeks ago on March 2 and 9. (KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korea fired what appeared to be two ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Sunday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, urging the regime to halt the “inappropriate” military act amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was the North’s fourth weapons test of the year, all in March.

The missiles flew approximately 230 kilometers from Wonsan on the North’s eastern coast and reached a peak altitude of 30 kilometers.

South Korea’s national security adviser and other security officials held an emergency video conference shortly after the firings, Cheong Wa Dae said.

While the South Korean authorities were yet to determine the nature of the latest firings, local experts said the test was evidence of North Korea’s unflinching commitment to its mission.

“North Korea is essentially saying it would go on with business as usual for its weapons development -- missiles or rockets -- no matter what the surrounding circumstances were around the country or the world,” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum.

Days earlier, the United States recorded the highest number of COVID-19 infections worldwide and remains preoccupied with bringing the number down.

South Korea, in the meantime, was on red alert to combat the pandemic at home, having seen the greatest number of infections in Asia outside China, where the virus originated.

Local experts said this time North Korea may have fired “new guided rockets,” because they were the least combat ready weapons among the four sets of short-range weapons it displayed last year.

Pyongyang launched super-large rockets March 2 and 9 and its adaptation of US surface-to-surface ballistic missile called ATACMS on March 21.

North Korea has already put into combat operation its version of the Russian ballistic missile Iskander, also among the weapons demonstrated last year, according to Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

“In terms of combat readiness, super-large rockets would soon be operational with Pyongyang’s ATACMS following next in line. The new guided rockets on Sunday, on the other hand, were the least combat ready,” Kim said. 

“What struck me as amazing, however, was North Korea seemed fairly quicker to showcase each complete set of weaponry than it was supposed to. That’s something to consider.”

A US surveillance aircraft flew over South Korea on Sunday on an apparent mission to monitor North Korea as the communist regime carried out a test of what appeared to be a pair of ballistic missiles the same day.

The US Navy’s EP-3E was spotted in skies above South Korea at 8,000 meters, according to an Aircraft Spots tweet. The exact time of the sighting was not immediately clear.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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