By Jung Da-min
North Korea's recent test of its super-large multiple rocket launcher has not only proved the weapon system's improved "volley-firing" capabilities but also showed that North Korea's weapons development programs have proceeded steadily for the past two years, experts said Monday.
On Nov. 28, North Korea conducted the test-firing of the super-large multiple launch rocket system for the fourth time this year following Aug. 24, Sept. 10 and Oct. 31 launches. All four tests involved two rockets fired from the weapon system, with the North succeeding to narrow down the firing interval from 17 minutes on Aug. 24 and 3 minutes on Oct. 31 to 30 seconds on Nov. 28.
The Sept. 10 test was a failure due to being conducted in an open field around Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, while the other three tests took place on concrete surfaces at military airfields. The latest Nov. 28 weapon test was conducted from around the Yonpo Airfield in South Hamgyong Province.
Overall, the weapon system proved its improved volley firing capabilities but still can't work properly if deployed in an open field, experts pointed out.
"North Korea's super-large multiple rocket launcher system appears to be a 600-milimeter diameter one. The fact that they fire it at 30-second intervals is a significant improvement when there are few multiple rocket launcher systems of such a big diameter anywhere in the world," said Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum.
"Although the technology is yet to be complete as they could not volley-fire all four rockets, the 30-second interval is only half of the Iskander's." Iskander is the name of a Russian missile system.
Shin said, however, the Nov. 28 test-launch did not set an exact target point, only focusing on the volley-firing. He also pointed out its insufficient capabilities to be fired from an open field, which would take a long time for the North to overcome as the big-diameter rockets require bigger launch pads so that the ground would not be depressed during firing.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University's Far East Institute, also evaluated the 30-second interval of the Nov. 28 test as a successful volley firing. He said the North is likely to initiate mass production of the weapon in the near future.
"Among the four new weapons system revealed by North Korea ― KN-23 short-range ballistic missiles which bear traits of Russian Iskander missiles, a newly developed large-caliber multiple-launch guided rocket system, another SRBM which bears traits of the U.S. Army's Tactical Missile System and the super-large multiple rocket launcher system ― the developments for the North Korean Iskander and the super-large multiple rocket launcher system will soon be completed and they will soon enter service," Kim said.
North Korea is also establishing more concrete pads for missile launches throughout the nation, Japan's newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported Monday.
Shin said such concrete pads are not only used for the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles but also for medium-range ballistic missiles.
"The fact that the North is establishing more such pads in more varied areas means the South Korean and U.S. surveillance platforms would have more places to check," Shin said.
As the year-end deadline set by the North on its denuclearization talks with the U.S. is approaching, there is a possibility that the North has been preparing to conduct more missile tests if it does not get tangible results in time, experts said.
A recent test-firing of North Korea's coastal artillery on its western coast was also seen as such a signal, experts noted, as it was a violation of the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement reached on Sept. 19 last year, on the sidelines of the third inter-Korean summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un. Kim ordered the test-firing, Nov. 23, during his visit to the country's western front Changrin Islet defense detachment near the South's Northern Limit Line (NLL).
While Shin said such military provocations from the North were aimed at sending a message to the U.S. on the denuclearization talks, Kim said it could also be seen that the North has set a new party strategy, which is pursuing economic development and strengthening of the internal unity of its military.