Expect a Surge in North Korean Missile Tests, and of Greater Range

April 10, 2020
Shea Cotton

The following is an excerpt of an article in DefenseNews

North Korea is signaling this will be its busiest year of missile testing yet. In March, the regime conducted nine tests, the most in a single month recorded in our database.

Recall that on April 21, 2018, Kim Jong Un declared North Korea would cease intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests in the lead-up to a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. However, Kim’s stated reason for the pause — more pragmatic than diplomatic — asserted it was because North Korea had “completed its mission” for its nuclear and missile program.

As diplomatic talks stalled, North Korea slowly began to unwind its pledge, and in May 2019, over a year after initially pledging to halt tests, it resumed launching missiles. Finally, on Jan. 1, 2020, Kim stated he no longer felt “unilaterally bound” by North Korea’s moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests.

These renewed tests had a few different characteristics: They were smaller, of shorter range, solid-fueled and new. Their novelty is especially important: Remember, Kim’s stated reason for the testing freeze was because he felt confident enough in the systems he had already tested so as to make future tests of them superfluous.

That the missiles tested since May 2019 have been entirely new is not a coincidence and is perfectly in line with Kim’s stated logic for the initial freeze. Several of North Korea’s new missiles were so new, in fact, they had never been seen by analysts in the open-source sphere. The regime needed to test the newer systems to verify that they worked. Even more surprising, the tests appeared to have been largely successful.

As of writing, North Korea has conducted at least 35 missile tests, only one of which appears to have failed in flight, since resuming tests in May 2019. Even if there were a few more failed flight tests that North Korea had successfully covered up, this is a remarkable feat. It demonstrates that, while North Korea spent over a year not carrying out missile tests, it continued missile development.

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