North Korea Fires Missiles to Show Force After Putin Visit

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea shot off at least two suspected ballistic missiles Monday, days after firing a rocket to test a new multiple warhead system for delivering a nuclear strike.

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The missiles were launched at about 5:05 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. from a province southwest of Pyongyang and headed toward the northeast, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a dispatch sent to reporters. The launch was the second in less than a week. North Korea typically doesn’t comment on its launches until the following day.

One of the projectiles was a short-range ballistic missile that flew about 600 kilometers (375 miles) and landed in waters off the east coast, the JCS said later.

The other ballistic missile may have had trouble in flight that caused it to break apart and spread debris on North Korea’s inland territory, it added. The missile flew about 120 kms before it disappeared from radar. The distance and flight path open the possibility that debris could have fallen in the Pyongyang area, Yonhap News reported.

The latest launches have been a show of force for leader Kim Jong Un after he hosted Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang in mid-June. The two countries reached a deal during the Russian president’s first visit to North Korea in 24 years to come to the other’s aid if attacked, raising alarm among the US and its key allies in Asia — Japan and South Korea.

About a week after the visit, North Korea claimed it successfully conducted a test of a multiple warhead missile system on June 26. But South Korea called the launch a failure and accused Kim’s regime of using “deception and exaggeration” to cover up a missile that exploded in the early stages of flight.

North Korea has at times made dubious claims about successes in weapons tests. But Kim has set the goal of being able to deploy multiple warheads to hit several targets, making them harder to intercept and more likely at least one can reach its target.

The technology is known as MIRV, or multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles, and was first developed in the 1960s, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

“The development of MIRV technology is not easy,” according to a factsheet on MIRV by the center. “It requires the combination of large missiles, small warheads, accurate guidance, and a complex mechanism for releasing warheads sequentially during flight.”

Russia has had multiple warhead deployment technology for decades, and the test earlier in June increases concerns that deepening military ties between the two countries could involve tech transfers to help Kim’s MIRV program.

The US and its partners have accused Kim of sending millions of rounds of munitions to help Putin in his grinding war on Ukraine in return for aid that’s propping up North Korea’s economy and technology that could advance its military.

Pyongyang and Moscow have denied the charges of arms transfers despite ample evidence showing them taking place.

Russia, in return, is providing North Korea with food, raw materials and parts used in weapons manufacturing, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik has said. The food aid has helped Kim stabilize prices for necessities, and if the arms transfers grow, Russia will likely send more military technology to Kim, increasing Pyongyang’s threat to the region, Shin added.

Over the weekend, Kim presided over a major meeting of his ruling Workers’ Party of Korea that is “stepping up the historic advance for the comprehensive rejuvenation of Korean-style socialism,” the state’s propaganda apparatus reported.

In a separate move that has increased friction on the divided peninsula, North Korea since late May has sent more than 2,000 balloons into South Korea carrying trash such as waste paper, cigarette butts and used batteries, according to South Korea’s military and police.

--With assistance from Seyoon Kim and Shinhye Kang.

(Updates with details on missile flights from paragraph two.)

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