North Korea tested an advanced anti-ship cruise missile Saturday that analysts say appears identical to a weapon used by Russia.
North Korea's state media agency KCNA released photos of leader Kim Jong-un grinning and laughing as he watched the rocket soar above the sea, bringing weight to the nation's claims it has been revamping its naval capabilities.
The US and South Korea are slated to hold their annual joint military exercises this spring, and North Korea has responded in typical fashion by increasing its own drills in recent weeks. South Korea has claimed it is willing to drop the operation — a frequent point of contention with the North Koreans — if Washington agrees to the move. A senior State Department official said this week, however, that canceling the exercises is a "nonstarter" in negotiations with North Korea.
North Korea often touts its fighting capacity prior to the exercises, Reuters noted, but the new missile is perhaps a sign the country has expanded its weaponry, potentially with Russian support.
"The design raises questions about whether, when, and under what circumstances Moscow might have assisted North Korea in the development of the system," analyst Jeffrey Lewis, of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, told Reuters.
The missile appears "identical" to Russia's KH-35, which can fly high above the sea, Lewis noted. The KH-35, which the Soviet Union first conceived in the 1970s, has a turbojet engine and can be used by motorboats, naval helicopters, warplanes, and coastal strike systems, the Military Analysis Network explains. The missile can travel at 300 meters per second, and can fly as low as three meters above the water as it prepares to hit its target.
The missile appeared briefly in a North Korea propaganda video once last year with no explanation, but the North Korean state media agency announced Sunday that it was "a new type of cutting-edge anti-ship rocket." They did not mention the role of Russia or any other nation in the test, but Russia has exported the missile to a number of other countries, including India, Algeria, and Vietnam.
In the test, the missile launched from a rocket boat, "tracked and hit the 'enemy' ship after taking a safe flight," KCNA claimed. Kim boasted that the weapon showed North Korea had developed its naval powers to an "ultramodern level."
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