Two missile tests in less than a week is a record even for North Korea. Last Thursday, Pyongyang fired two short-range missiles towards the Sea of Japan. Today, two more with the same characteristics have taken flight with the same trajectory. During the night in Korea, the first dispatches from South Korean news agencies spoke of unidentified projectiles, even though shortly afterwards, the United States went into more detail, specifying them as “short-range ballistic missiles,” which are the same as the ones used in the first of the two tests, fired close together. There is still uncertainty about the model of the missile, although analysts have speculated it may be a Russian Iskander, an impressive and very dangerous weapon when combined with the most recent type of submarine, which was inspected by Kim Jong Un in person.
Pyongyang’s new strategy
The Iskander is a short-range ballistic missile manufactured in Russia. It can hit targets located at medium-short distance, moving or stationary, and is the ideal weapon to destroy nerve centers, bunkers or armored vehicles. Each missile has a single warhead and can be nuclear as well; it has a range of about 300 kilometers, which can be expanded if necessary to 500. The danger of the Iskander lies in its ability to evade opposing defense systems, including American Patriot missiles. If the four missiles launched in the last week by Pyongyang are in fact Iskanders, they could not hit the United States and, in theory, not even Japan. The impression is that North Korea may have carried out these tests in response to the recent relations between Washington and South Korea. Between planned joint military drills and the purchase of 40 F-35 fighter jets from the US government, Seoul may have annoyed their northern cousins.
North Korea’s next moves
So far in 2019, North Korea has carried out eight missile tests, which add to the other 87 launches recorded between 2012 and 2017. But the gaze of the international community is focused on the most recent four missiles launched. If the projectiles are indeed ballistic missiles, then they can be fitted to the submarine inspected a week ago by Kim Jong Un. The South Korean military believes that the North Korean vessel, heir to the old Sinpo-C, is able to carry three ballistic missiles, but more importantly, they speculate the submarines could be in the pre-launch phase. This portends the possible next two moves by Pyongyang. In the short term, Pyongyang could carry out a new test, similar to those seen in recent days but using the submarine as a launcher; in the longer term, however, the North Korean government will aim to strengthen its fleet of submarines.
The US’s next moves
At the moment, the United States has not released official comments on the latest North Korean tests. Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo have actually downplayed the launches by continuing to talk about the diplomatic nuclear agreement that must be established with North Korea. Trump believes in the agreement, he is committed to it and sees it as a personal success. It remains to be seen whether the American president will resist pressure from the deep state, where more than one official – the US media says – is looking forward to erasing Pyongyang from the face of the earth. The feeling is that, by the 2020 presidential elections, Donald Trump will deliver a dramatic turn of events, a decisive meeting or maybe the signing of a peace treaty with his friend Kim Jong Un.