Is North Korea Looking to Test an Anti-Ship Cruise Missile?

North Korea loaded two anti-ship cruise missiles on to a patrol boat late last week, Fox News reported citing anonymous US intelligence officials.

The missiles were loaded on the boat at Toejo Dong on North Korea’s east coast, according to the story.

The Fox News story referred to the missiles as ‘Stormpetrels’, apparently making public for the first time, its NATO reporting name.

(In a bizarre but unsurprising development, US president Donald Trump retweeted the Fox News story, though it apparently contained classified information and notwithstanding his own administration’s clampdown on leaks.)

A Sea-Based KN-19?

While the Fox News story doesn’t provide details about the missiles, they are most likely a version of North Korea’s KN19 coastal defence cruise missile, which are designed to attack ships.

On June 8, North Korean forces launched four anti-ship cruise missiles from the eastern port of Wonsan- not far from where the two missiles were reportedly loaded on a boat last week.

These were KN-19 missiles, also called the Kumsong-3. They are believed to be based on Russian KH-35 Uran missiles, which North Korea acquired sometime in the 1990s.

The June 8 test ‘successfully demonstrated waypoint maneuvers in flight at a range of 240 kilometers and featured a more advanced guidance suite in its seeker’, Ankit Panda of The Diplomat then reported, citing an anonymous US government official.

‘To strike the target ship, the KN19 missiles first flew out into the Sea of Japan perpendicular to the coast from Wonsan, flying farther east than the location of the target ship at a low altitude. Thereafter, the missiles successfully made at least two left turns each to fly back toward the North Korean coast, with at least three eventually successfully striking the vessel off the coast of Mayang-do, near Sinpo.’

While the June test was not a realistic simulation of the sort of maneuvers an anti-ship cruise missile would perform in combat, it was obviously intended to validate the missile’s technical parametres.

It’s possible North Korea is now planning to test a close variant of this missile by launching two of them from a sea vessel instead of land vehicle.

News of the loading of the two cruise missiles comes just days after the UN Security Council unanimously imposed a fresh set of sanctions on North Korea.

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