Western analysts say the short-range missiles tested by North Korea recently showcased their growing capability, including to better evade US missile systems.
The tests after the collapse of landmark denuclearization talkssignal that Pyongyang is serious about developing new weapons that could be used early and effectively in any war with the United States, they said.
While the Trump administration tried to play down the missiles, experts said the previously untested weapons are easier to hide, launch, and maneuver in flight.
President Donald Trump and other officials have emphasized that the missiles are not the large, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States.
But Melissa Hanham, a weapons expert at Datayo, dismissed those presumptions.
“They are small, easy to hide, easy to maneuver and you can’t tell what kind of warhead they are carrying. They could carry a nuclear weapon,” she told Reuters news agency.
Missile experts underlined that the new missile tested Thursday looks similar to Russia’s SS-26 Iskander missile, and could exploit gaps in South Korean and American missile defense coverage.
Analysts said Thursday’s test confirmed the missile is capable of maneuvering to elude defenses and protect its launch crew from detection.
Pyongyang put a halt on its missile launches and nuclear tests shortly before a diplomatic thaw led to the first ever summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Trump in Singapore last June.
They met for a second time in February but Trump walked away from the summit, claiming that Kim had insisted on the removal of all sanctions on North Korea.
Last month, the US and South Korea conducted a joint military drill that involved the THAAD missile system in Pyongtaek, south of capital Seoul.
North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun criticized the war game as “a military provocation” in an article on Friday.
“The US prepares to conduct a preemptive attack on us and neighboring countries with THAAD under the pretext of some ‘missile threats from the North,’ but it knows well what kind of result this will bring from us in the current situation,” read the article.
The tensions between the two sides were renewed on Thursday, after the US seized North Korea’s second-largest cargo ship over what it claimed were violations of sanctions.
The move prompted the North’s young leader to order the military to boost its strike capability and keep “full combat posture” on Friday.
Kim said “genuine peace and security of the country are guaranteed only by the strong physical force capable of defending its sovereignty.”
The North has warned that it is considering ending talks on denuclearization and resuming its nuclear and missile tests over what it has described as “the gangster-like stand” of the US.