(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 9, 11-13)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has overseen a test of a newly developed "tactical guided weapon," state media reported Sunday, a day after South Korea said the communist nation fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea.
The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Saturday that the North conducted the launches from areas near its western county of Sonchon in North Pyongan Province, and the missiles flew around 410 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of around 50 km.
It was the North's third such weapons test so far this year.
On Sunday, Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim attended the test-firing.
"The fire was aimed at reconfirming and showing to the KPA commanding officers the tactical characters and power of a new weapon system to be delivered to KPA units," KCNA said. KPA stands for the Korean People's Army.
"The fire clearly proved the characters of different flight trajectories and falling angles, accuracy of guided shells and their power," it said.
KCNA said it was the latest in a series of newly developed weapons systems, and cited Kim saying that the "successive birth of the new weapon systems of our style serves as a great event in making development and a difference in the armed forces of our state."
"The new-type weapon systems which we have recently developed and the tactical and strategic weapon systems in the development stage will make decisive contributions to the realization of the Party's strategic plan to make a radical change in the national defense strategy," Kim was also quoted as saying.
Military officials and experts here have presumed that the projectiles involved in the latest launch could be the North Korean version of the United States' Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).
Rather than following a general parabolic trajectory, Saturday's missiles were detected to have shown a more complicated path by doing a so-called pull-up maneuver over the course of their flight.
As seen in the ATACMS flight trajectory, the pull-up maneuver, designed to avoid interception, has raised concerns that it could outmaneuver anti-missile systems in the South, such as the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors.
The North's version of the ATACMS unit is known to be capable of firing two missiles in succession and then quickly receding into concealment. Should the interval between the launches be shorter than two minutes, it would be difficult to preemptively strike the launching platform, observers noted.
The ATACMS unit deployed to the South Korean military is known to be able to destroy an area three or four times bigger than a soccer field.
The latest weapon test came as the North is making all-out efforts to block the new coronavirus from breaking out on its soil amid its fast global outbreak. Though it has not reported any confirmed case, Pyongyang has tightened its border, toughened quarantine measures and restricted movement of people and goods.
On Saturday, South Korea denounced the launches as "a very inappropriate act" coming at a time when the whole world has been facing difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic, and urged Pyongyang to immediately halt such military activities.
North Korea conducted missile tests 13 times last year, with the latest on carried out in November in show of force and frustration over stalemated denuclearization talks with Washington.
Nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled since the no-deal summit between Kim and Trump in February last year.
Kim told a party meeting late in December that he does not feel bound anymore by his self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, saying that the world will witness a "new strategic weapon" in the near future.
Despite long-stalled denuclearization talks and threats for provocations, North Korea and the U.S. have boasted of good relationship between their leaders by exchange of personal letters.
Earlier in the day, Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North's leader Kim, said that Trump has sent a letter to offer help with the country's fight against the coronavirus, calling it "a good example showing the special and firm personal relations"
The sister said that leader Kim also "mentioned his special personal relations with President Trump again and appreciated the personal letter," but she also cautioned against misjudging the two countries' ties based only on the personal relations of the two leaders.
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