North Korea says it tested long-range cruise missiles to sharpen attack capabilities

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Wednesday it conducted a test-firing of long-range cruise missiles with an aim to sharpen its counterattack and strategic strike capabilities, in its latest display of weapons threatening South Korea and Japan.

The report by North Korean state media came a day after South Korea’s military detected the North firing multiple cruise missiles into waters off its western coast, the third launch of such weapons this month. The event extended a provocative streak in weapons testing as North Korea continues to raise pressure on the United States and its Asian allies amid a prolonged freeze in diplomacy.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said that the weapon tested on Tuesday was the Hwasal-2 and that the launch did not affect the security of neighbors. The report didn’t specify the exact numbers of missiles fired or the specifics of their flight performance.

The North has previously described the Hwasal-2 as nuclear-capable and that their range is up to 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles), a distance that would include U.S. military bases in Japan.

North Korea in recent years has been expanding its lineup of cruise missiles, which are designed to be fired from both land and naval assets. These weapons supplement the country’s huge lineup of ballistic missiles, including short-range solid-fuel missiles aimed at overwhelming missile defenses in South Korea and intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the U.S. mainland.

Since 2021, North Korea has conducted at least 11 rounds of tests of what it described as long-range cruise missiles fired from both land and sea.

The North’s two previous tests of cruise missiles on Jan. 24 and Jan. 28 were of a new weapon called Pulhwasal-3-31, which is designed to be fired from submarines. Following that weapon’s second launch on Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reiterated his goal of building a nuclear-armed navy to counter what he described as growing external threats.

The North on Jan. 14 also tested a new solid-fuel intermediate-range missile, which underscored its efforts to advance its weapons that could target U.S. assets in the Pacific, including the military hub of Guam.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, after Kim accelerated his weapons development to an unprecedented pace while issuing provocative nuclear threats against the United States, South Korea and Japan. The United States and its Asian allies in response have strengthened their combined military exercises and updated their deterrence strategies.

There are concerns that Kim, emboldened by the steady advancement of his nuclear arsenal and strengthened ties with Russia, would further ramp up pressure against his rivals in an election year in the United States and South Korea.

Experts say Kim’s long-term goal is to force the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiate security concessions and sanctions relief from a position of strength.