North Korea said Saturday that it has test-fired a new anti-ship cruise missile, a move experts in Seoul viewed as an attempt to raise tensions ahead of joint military drills between the United States and South Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on-site to observe the successful testing of the "ultra-precision" rocket conducted by the country's East Sea fleet, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said. The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published front-page photos of Kim watching a missile being fired off a naval vessel, although the state media outlets did not mention the time or location of the exercise.
Yang Uk, a Seoul-based security expert and an adviser to South Korea's navy, said the North Korean missile looked similar to Russia's KH-35 anti-ship missile, which has a range of about 130-140 kilometers (81-87 miles) and is capable of traveling at high speeds while staying close to the sea's surface.
North Korea began importing KH-35 missiles in the mid-2000s and the test-firing suggests that the country has succeeded in producing missiles of similar design domestically, Yang said.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea was demonstrating its military capabilities ahead of next month's annual U.S.-South Korean drills, which Pyongyang says are a rehearsal for an invasion. The U.S. and South Korea have repeatedly said that the war games are defensive in nature, and that they have no intentions of attacking the North.
North Korea told the United States last month that it was willing to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington scraps the military drills with South Korea this year, but the allies have refused to cancel the exercises.