A North Korea's Scud-B missile, second from right, is displayed Friday with South Korean missiles at the Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea. (Ahn Young-joon / AP)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — North Korea said Friday that leader Kim Jong Un has guided the test launches of its newly developed precision guided missiles, in a possible reference to three short-range projectiles South Korean officials say the North fired toward its waters a day earlier.
South Korean defense officials said the projectiles fired from an eastern port city Thursday flew about 190 kilometers (120 miles) before harmlessly landing into the waters off its east coast. The exact type of those projectiles and the North’s intentions weren’t immediately known.
The North’s state media said Friday that the country tested what it calls “cutting-edge ultra-precision tactical guided missiles” and Kim watched the tests with top deputies and was satisfied with the results.
There is virtually no way to independently confirm whether North Korea has developed such high-tech missiles. North Korea has frequently bluffed and exaggerated about its military capability, and its army, though one of the world’s largest, is seen as running on outdated equipment and short supplies amid the nation’s chronic economic problems, according to foreign analysts.
Still, the impoverished North devotes much of its scarce resources to its missile and nuclear programs, which subsequently pose a serious threat to South Korea, Japan and tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the region. Outside analysts say North Korea has developed a handful of crude nuclear devices and is working toward building a warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile, although most experts say that goal may take years to achieve.
The North didn’t say when the latest launches took place or how many missiles were fired, but they are likely the projectiles that Seoul says North Korea fired Thursday as there have been no other such reported firings by North Korea in recent days.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said Friday that North Korea has been trying to upgrade its large-caliber multiple rocket launch systems in recent years and that those weapons’ range has been slightly and gradually increased in each test-launch.
The North Korean media dispatch Friday called the latest missile launches “significant” because they were made at a time when it is bolstering its national defense because the U.S. and South Korea are “going extremely reckless in the moves to isolate and stifle (North Korea) and unleash a war of aggression.”
Short-range test firings by North Korea aren’t unusual, but a barrage of missile and artillery tests earlier this year boosted tension between the rivals. A North Korean artillery attack in 2010 killed four South Koreans on a front-line Yellow Sea island.
North Korea has in recent months threatened South Korea’s president, calling her a prostitute, and the South has vowed to hit North Korea hard if provoked. North Korea’s rising anger coincided with annual joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea and a visit to Seoul by President Barack Obama. North Korea also test-fired two medium-range ballistic missiles and exchanged artillery fire with South Korea near a disputed boundary in the Yellow Sea.
On Thursday, North Korea’s army accused South Korea of firing shells into the North’s waters near the sea boundary. The North Korean army in the front-line area is “full of the strong will of retaliation to punish the provocateurs to the last one by giving vent to their pent-up grudge,” said the army statement carried by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency.
Both Koreas routinely conduct artillery drills near the maritime boundary, a scene of several bloody skirmishes in recent years.
The Korean Peninsula is still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty. The United States keeps about 28,500 troops in the South.