Asia Defense | Security | East Asia

North Korea Conducts Second Test of ‘Super-Large’ Multiple Launch Rocket System

The test marks the tenth missile launch event this year in North Korea.

Ankit Panda
North Korea Conducts Second Test of ‘Super-Large’ Multiple Launch Rocket System
Credit: Rodong Sinmun

On Wednesday, North Korea announced that it had conducted a second test of a new “super-large multiple rocket launcher” system a day earlier. The test was guided by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and marked the tenth missile test event in 2019. North Korea resumed missile-testing after a 17 month pause that lasted from November 2017 to May 3, 2019.

According to South Korean authorities, the North launched two missiles that flew to a distance of 330 kilometers on an eastward trajectory. The maximum altitude reached by the two missiles was in the range of 50 to 60 kilometers, according to South Korean data, suggesting that the launches this time tested a depressed trajectory for the missiles. The launch took place from near the Kaechon airfield in South Pyongan province.

This new North Korean system appears to be a 600mm Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). It is the largest MLRS system to make an appearance in North Korea. The missile appears to have a 600mm caliber. Pyongyang has two other large, guided MLRS systems, including the 300mm KN09 MLRS and a new 400mm MLRS.

Kim Jong Un “said that the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launcher has been finally verified in terms of combat operation, the characteristics of trajectory, accuracy and precise homing functions,” a report by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Kim apparently added that further testing of this system may take place. He called for a “running fire test,” according to KCNA. That may refer to a so-called ‘ripple’ test where all available rockets in an MLRS are quickly launched. This system features four launch tubes.

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There is some ambiguity about whether the North fired two or three projectiles. Both the initial South Korean assessment and the official North Korean statement on the test noted that two missiles were fired. However, in images released by North Korean state media, it appears that three out of the four rocket canisters on the launcher were exhausted, suggesting that a third rocket may have been launched and possibly failed to complete its flight successfully.

The system was first introduced and tested on August 24 from Sondok in South Hamgyon province. During that test, two rockets were fired at what appeared to be an efficient minimum energy trajectory, maximizing range and payload mass.

The latest test came shortly after a statement by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui suggesting that talks between the United States and North Korea could resume later this month. On June 30, Kim met U.S. President Donald J. Trump at the Joint Security Area along the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone and the two agreed to resume working-level talks. Those talks have yet to resume.