SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday said its latest ballistic test was of a new long-range missile powered by solid propellants, which it described as the “most powerful piece” of its growing nuclear arsenal intended to target the United States and its allies in Asia.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency issued the report a day after its neighbors detected the launch from an area near its capital of Pyongyang, which added to a spate of testing that so far involved more than 100 missiles fired into sea since the start of 2022.
KCNA said the test was supervised on site by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who said the missile, named Hwasong-18, would enhance the counterattack abilities of his nuclear forces in the face of what he described as growing external threats created by the military activities of the United States and its regional allies. Kim vowed to further expand his nuclear arsenal so that his rivals “suffer from extreme anxiety and fear while facing an insurmountable threat, and be plunged into regrets and despair over their decisions.”
North Korea has justified its weapons demonstrations as a response to the expanding military exercises between the United States and South Korea, which the North condemns as invasion rehearsals while using them as a pretext to push further its own weapons development.
“Respected comrade Kim Jong Un said speeding up the development of evolving and more advanced and powerful weapons systems is our party and government’s consistent policy to respond to military threats and worsening security situation on the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA said.
It cited Kim as saying that the Hwasong-18 would rapidly advance North Korea’s nuclear response posture and further support an aggressive military strategy that vows to maintain “nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation” against its rivals.
North Korea has tested various intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017 that demonstrated potential range to reach the U.S. mainland, but its previous missiles were powered by liquid-fuel engines that need to be fueled relatively shortly before launch, as they cannot remain fueled for prolonged periods.
An ICBM with built-in solid propellants would be easier to move and hide and could be fired more quickly, reducing the opportunities for opponents to detect and counter the launch. But it wasn’t immediately clear from Friday’s report how close the North has come to acquiring a functional solid-fuel ICBM that would be capable of reaching and striking the U.S. mainland.
Solid-fuel ICBMs highlighted an extensive wish list Kim announced under a five-year arms development plan in 2021, which also included tactical nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines and spy satellites.
The North has fired around 30 missiles this year alone over 12 different launch events as both the pace of its weapons development and the U.S.-South Korean military exercises increase in a cycle of tit-for-tat.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries conducted their biggest field exercises in years last month and separately held joint naval and air force drills involving a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group and nuclear-capable U.S. bombers.
North Korea claimed the drills simulated an all-out war against North Korea and communicated threats to occupy Pyongyang and decapitate its leadership. The United States and South Korea have described their exercises as defensive in nature and said that the expansion of those drills is necessary to cope with the North’s evolving threats.