(ATTN: UPDATES throughout)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Jan. 15 (Yonhap) — North Korea said Saturday its railway-based missile regiment conducted a firing drill a day earlier, with two tactical guided missiles hitting a set target in the East Sea.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the unit in North Pyongan Province bordering China staged the drill aimed at “checking and judging the proficiency” in its action procedures.
It marks the North’s second known missile test using a railway launch platform since the last one in September, and the country’s third show of force this year.
“The regiment received a firepower mission at short notice from the General Staff in the morning on Friday before swiftly moving to the firing ground, and precisely struck the set target in the East Sea of Korea with two tactical guided missiles,” the KCNA said.
The unit’s combat posture “demonstrated high maneuverability and rate of hits in the drill was highly appreciated,” the KCNA said.
“The issues were discussed to set up proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country and to find out ways for further completing our style fighting methods with the railway-borne missiles,” it added.
The drill was supervised by commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army and leading officials of the Academy of Defense Science, according to the KCNA. It did not mention whether leader Kim Jong-un attended it.
South Korea’s military said Friday that the North’s latest projectiles, launched from Uiju in the province, flew around 430 kilometers at an altitude of 36 km and at a top speed of Mach 6, six times the speed of sound.
Observers say the missiles appear to be the KN-23 type modeled after Russia’s Iskander mobile ballistic missile.
The KN-23 missile is known to employ a so-called pull-up maneuver over the course of its flight — a technique designed to avoid interception and thus complicate South Korea’s missile defense efforts.
After the train-borne missile test in September, the North said its railway-based missile regiment is meant to “increase the capability of dealing an intensive multi-concurrent blow at the forces posing threats to us.”
Friday’s firing drill underscores the North’s efforts to diversify launch platforms under a scheme to enhance the survivability of its missiles and make their detection more difficult.
The North’s latest saber-rattling came after it warned of a “stronger and certain reaction” to the United States’ recent imposition of fresh sanctions on six North Koreans involved in the regime’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
Pyongyang fired what it purports to be a hypersonic missile on Jan. 5 and Tuesday, in an apparent continued quest for the development of new advanced weapons amid a deadlock in nuclear talks with Washington.