North Korea is moving to mass produce the weapons with a view to eventual deployment following the successful launch of medium-range ballistic missile on Sunday and reports of another test launch early this morning.
The decision to ramp up production was reported by the Korean Central News Agency, who revealed that leader Kim Jong Un had praised Sunday’s launch accuracy and said it should be “rapidly mass produce in a serial way”.
The Sunday launch was designed to test the missile in battle conditions.
The missile, known as Pukguksong-2, relies on solid fuel and was launched from a mobile vehicle, allowing it to be pre-loaded with fuel and moved to a launch site.
South Korean officials reported that the missile flew 310 miles and reached an altitude of 348 miles.
This is in fact not the most successful effort by the North Koreans, on May 14 the Hwasong-12 missile, which is able to carry a large nuclear warhead, was recorded flying 430 miles and achieving an altitude of more than 1245 miles.
Is the best defence a solid offence?
In February, a North Korean ambassador told the United Nations that the missile tests are “self-defense measures to protect national sovereignty and the safety of [North Koreans] against direct threats by hostile forces”.
Despite repeated warnings from nations such as the US, the history of “strategic patience” has seemingly emboldened North Korea to push ahead with its aggressive “self-defence” program.
The ultimate aim of the missile program is the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, with primary targets being South Korea, Japan and the US mainland.
While South Korea and Japan are within easier reach, hitting the US mainland would require a nuclear warhead to withstand re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.
As of yet, it is believed that the North Koreans are still several years off such technology but their progress of late has been faster than expected.
Sunday’s test was accompanied by a collection of photographs, published by North Korean state media, that were supposedly taken from a camera attached to the missile.
If true, the images will be used to help improve the steering and position functions of a nuclear warhead.
In before the sanctions
While the missile program may be moving at a faster pace than expected, experts say that it is not necessarily any cause for panic.
Given North Korea’s history of exaggeration and self-aggrandisement, it’s always worth taking their claims with a grain of salt.
Their progress is cause for concern but probably not to the level they hope.
David Wright, the co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained in a blog post:
If you look at examples of other countries building long-range solid missiles, such as France and China, it took them several decades to get from the point of building a medium-range solid missile, which North Korea has done, to building a solid ICBM. So this is not something that will happen soon, but with time North Korea will be able to do it.
Wright told USA Today that it’s likely the North Koreans are trying to get ahead of sanctions.
The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to convene today to discuss the missile testing following a request from Japan, South Korea and the US.
With the UN threatening to increase sanctions as a result of North Korea’s ramped up testing, Wright suggested that there is a strong probability that Kim is ready to make a deal and is just attempting to make as much progress as possible before sanctions freeze any further development.
However, while the missiles may not be the threat North Korea wishes them to appear to be, the nation is making inroads elsewhere against what they consider hostile nations.
Earlier today, what is believed to be a North Korean drone crossed the border into South Korea and was fired upon by the military. Reportedly, the South Koreans have sent a warning to North Korea in response.
More notably however, the WannaCry attack that recently compromised computer systems across the globe, including more than 60 NHS trusts, has been linked to the Lazarus group.
Lazarus have close ties to North Korea and according to security group Symantec, are probably the instigators behind the WannaCry attack.
Lazarus were previously blame for the 2014 attack on Sony launched on behalf of North Korea, seemingly in retaliation for the release of The Interview film. However, Symantec have pointed out that the WannaCry attack does not appear to be on behalf of North Korea this time, instead bearing closer resemblance to a more typical cyber-crime campaign.
North Korea has fully denied involvement in the WannaCry attack and branded such claims as “ridiculous”.