By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, April 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be working to develop capabilities that can degrade or even defeat U.S. missile defense systems deployed in its region, a congressional report suggested.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) report also noted the North's efforts to develop weapons may be more than just a political statement.
"The recent advances in North Korea's ballistic missile test program appear to be directed at developing capabilities to defeat or degrade the effectiveness of missile defenses deployed in the region," said the report, released April 16.
The report noted the U.S. missile defenses in the region included the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea.
The report comes after North Korea fired two KN-23 short-range ballistic missiles late last month, marking a resumption of its short-range ballistic missile testing after a yearlong hiatus.
"The KN-23 can strike any location on the Korean peninsula with either a conventional or nuclear payload and uses a solid-propellant. A March 25, 2021 launch may have tested a variant of the KN-23," said the report, noting KN-23 and its variants have characteristics that make them "difficult to defeat in flight."
"These traits suggest that the North Korean test program may seek to achieve more than a simple political statement, and that it may be intended to increase the reliability, effectiveness, and survivability of their ballistic missile force," it added.
The report also suggested the North may be focusing on developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to bypass U.S. missile defenses in the region.
"North Korea's progress with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) suggests an effort to counter land-based THAAD missile defenses by launching attacks from positions at sea outside the THAAD's radar field of view, although local Aegis BMD systems could likely still track these projectiles," it said.
Beyond Parallel, a project of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, earlier noted the North may be preparing to test a SLBM at its Nampo shipyard, citing recent satellite imagery.
North Korea successfully tested its Pukgugsong-3 SLBM in late 2019.
"In an October 2020 parade, North Korea unveiled a longer range SLBM (Pukguksong-4) but has not yet tested the weapon," said the CRS report.
North Korea has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing since November 2017, but said in 2019 that it is no longer bound by such restrictions.
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