North Korea says ready to deploy, mass-produce new missile

This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 22, 2017 shows North Korean ground-to-ground medium-to-long range strategic ballistic missile Pukguksong-2 during its test-fire. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

TOKYO — North Korea said Monday it is ready to start mass-producing a new medium-range missile after a weekend test-launch confirmed its combat readiness.

It called the missile, capable of reaching Japan and major U.S. military bases there, an “answer” to U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies.

The solid-fuel Pukguksong-2 missile flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles) and reached a height of 560 kilometers (350 miles) on Sunday before plunging into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea’s media said more missiles will be launched in the future.

Trump, traveling in Saudi Arabia and Israel, had no immediate public comment.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the launch and watched from an observation post, state media reported Monday. The Korea Central News Agency said the test verified technical aspects of the weapon system and examined its “adaptability under various battle conditions” before it is deployed to military units.

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Kim reportedly said the launch was a success, “approved the deployment of this weapon system for action” and said that it should “be rapidly mass-produced.”

North Korea has significantly speeded up its missile tests over the past year or so and appears to be making tangible progress toward developing an arsenal that poses a threat to South Korea and Japan — which together host about 80,000 U.S. troops — and developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.

It’s moving ahead with its nuclear weapons program as well.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year. It claims one was a hydrogen bomb and the other device created a more powerful explosion than any it has previously tested. Satellite imagery suggests it could be ready to conduct its next test — which would be its sixth — at virtually any time.

North Korea’s often-stated goal is to perfect a nuclear warhead that it can put on a missile capable of hitting Washington or other U.S. cities.

Its state media, meanwhile, have stepped up their calls for even more missile launches because of what the government says is an increasingly hostile policy from President Trump.

“The Trump administration would be well advised to lend an ear to the voices of concern that are heard from the U.S. and the international community,” North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper said in a commentary Sunday. “Many more ‘Juche weapons’ capable of striking the U.S. will be launched from this land. This is the DPRK’s answer to the Trump administration.'”

“Juche,” in this usage, refers to domestically produced and DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the ongoing testing is “disappointing” and “disturbing.”

South Korea held a National Security Council meeting after the launch, which its Foreign Ministry said “throws cold water” on efforts to ease tensions on the peninsula.

At the request of diplomats from the U.S., Japan and South Korea, urgent United Nations’ Security Council consultations on the missile test are to take place Tuesday.

The council on Monday strongly condemned North Korea’s “flagrant and provocative defiance” of U.N. sanctions banning ballistic missile tests and again vowed to impose new sanctions in response to its latest launch.

All 15 council members, including the North’s closest ally China, approved the statement ahead of Tuesday’s consultations where France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said a new sanctions resolution will be discussed.

He told reporters that France hopes the council will move ahead on a strong resolution that demands better implementation of existing sanctions and tougher new sanctions against North Korea.

The council statement said North Korea’s “illegal ballistic missile activities are significantly contributing to its development of nuclear weapons delivery systems and are greatly increasing tension in the region and beyond.”

North Korea a week earlier successfully tested a new midrange missile — the Hwasong 12 — that it said could carry a heavy nuclear warhead.

Experts said that rocket flew higher and for a longer time than any other missile previously tested by North Korea and represents another big advance toward a viable ICBM.

David Wright, an expert on North Korea’s missiles and nuclear program with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the latest missile could have flown farther but was fired on a “lofted” trajectory, which sends the missile high up so that it will land in the open seas rather than flying over or splashing down near neighboring countries.

He noted the Pukguksong-2’s solid fuel is of particular concern.

Solid-fuel missiles have their fuel loaded before being moved into place, allowing them to be launched faster and with more secrecy. Liquid-fuel missiles, on the other hand, are generally fueled at the launch site in a process that can last an hour and requires fueling and other vehicles. That makes them easier to spot and easier to destroy.