North Korea announced on Sept. 13 the “successful” test of a new cruise missile that raised significant questions among military experts. One commented to The Epoch Times that China and Iran likely supported the development and manufacture of the missile.
“As China has assisted North Korean ballistic missiles and has an advanced long-range land attack cruise missile (LACM) production base, it is very likely that China has enabled North Korea’s new long-range LACM,” wrote Richard Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC), in an email on Sept. 13.
“There is also a good chance that Iran provided LACM technology to Pyongyang,” Fisher wrote. Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea.
Two days after the LACM test, North Korea tested two ballistic missiles, which is a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. The same day, on Sept. 15, South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Ballistic missiles typically raise more concern in the United States, as they can reach the continental U.S. without additional forward deployment on ships and submarines. However, the LACMs bear closer inspection both because they are regionally significant, and because of the likely involvement of China or Iran in their proliferation to North Korea.
“In 1999 to 2001, according to former Ukrainian lawmaker Hrihory Omelchenko, the Ukraine exported 6 Russian KH-55 LACMs to China and 6 KH-55s to Iran. Iran’s Soumar LACM looks very similar to the KH-55,” Fisher wrote in the email.
Iran’s press representative at the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The sales occurred between 1999 and 2001, according to Omelchenko, in Associated Press reporting from 2005. He then stated that the KH-55 is nuclear capable, and was originally designed for Russian Tupalev long-range bombers. The KH-55 has a range of 1,864 miles, can carry a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead, and is air-launched.
While the North Korean LACM test on Sept. 13 reached 932 miles, according to North Korean state media, which would put Japan and Taiwan under threat, a 1,864-mile range would extend that threat to Taiwan and part of the Philippines, including Manila. North Korea is also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Fisher noted that “Given that LACMs are far less expensive to produce than ballistic missiles, it is surprising that North Korea has not developed them sooner.”
If China and North Korea prioritized nuclear targeting of the continental United States first, this might explain the initial focus on ballistic missiles, which can carry larger payloads, including relatively primitive nuclear weapons.
Cruise missiles can be launched from a diversity of platforms, including not only air, but submarines and from launchers hidden in shipping containers. This would give North Korea several additional ways to deliver nuclear weapons to the continental United States, if they can be miniaturized to fit within cruise missiles. Fitting them for submarine launch would also require modifications.
“North Korea’s LACM requires some modification to the air intake to make it compatible with submarine launch but that can be expected soon,” wrote Fisher. “But as is, the North Korean LACM can be stored and fired from a shipping container, making it a potential global military and terror threat.”
Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies stated on Twitter that “an intermediate-range land-attack cruise missile is a pretty serious capability for North Korea. This is another system that is designed to fly under missile defense radars or around them.”
Military aerospace expert Thomas Newdick reported on Sept. 13 that the new North Korean cruise missile tail section had a similarity to the KH-55, and that the term “strategic,” used by North Korea to describe the missile, usually denotes a nuclear capability.
Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted on Twitter that “this would be the first cruise missile system in North Korea with a ‘strategic’ role.”
The United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) released a statement: “We are aware of reports of DPRK cruise missile launches. We will continue to monitor the situation and are consulting closely with our allies and partners. This activity highlights DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that pose to its neighbors and the international community. The U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea [South Korea] and Japan remains ironclad.”
In response to the Sept. 13 cruise missile test, Japan and South Korea said they were coordinating with each other and the United States. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary said his administration was “concerned” by the reported North Korean missile launch. South Korea said it was analyzing the new military threat.
The Biden administration’s special representative on North Korea said on Tuesday that “The United States has no hostile intent toward” the country. He said that Washington wanted the DPRK to “respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.”
Japan’s prime minister called the Sept. 15 ballistic missile tests by North Korea a threat to peace and “outrageous.”