By Ellen Kim, Sang Jun Lee & Andy Lim
Starting from 5:42pm (local time in Seoul) on February 27, North Korea conducted a series of short-range ballistic missile tests. The South Korean military has announced that the North appears to have launched four Scud missiles from the Gitdaeryeong area in the country’s southeastern coast toward the sea. North Korea has not conducted scud missile tests in the past five years since its last test in 2009.
What are the capabilities of North Korea’s Scud missiles?
The South Korean military had initially estimated that North Korea tested a KN-02 missile which has a range of 170km, but later revised its estimate to the longer range Scud missile. North Korea is known to have four types of short range ballistic missiles (SRBM), three of which are scud-type missile with range of 300-700 km: the Scud-B (Hwasong-5), Scud-C (Hwasong-6), and Scud-D (Hwasong-7). These missiles put South Korea within its striking range and are capable of delivering a 300-500 kilogram payload and thought to have capabilities to be armed with conventional and possibly with chemical or biological warheads. Experts estimate that North Korea has about 700 Scud missiles currently in service.
Why is this important?
The short-range ballistic missile tests came three days after South Korea and the United States began their annual joint military exercises known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle on February 24. On the same day the military exercises began, a North Korean patrol boat was reported to have crossed the Northern Limit Line three times, a disputed maritime border between the two Koreas that have led to several skirmishes previously, including the sinking of South Korean corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeongpyeong island in 2010. From February 20th through 25th, South Korea and North Korea held the two rounds of family reunions in Mt. Kumgang resort in North Korea for the first time since October 2010, which was hoped to bring a thaw in inter-Korean relations. During the family reunions, South Korea had offered to provide vaccines and disinfectants to North Korea to help combat the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the country.
Why did North Korea conduct missile tests?
The tests are almost certainly a reaction to the U.S.-ROK annual military exercises, but their occurrence only days after the family reunions attest to the continued unpredictability of the regime under Kim Jong-un. Of interest is the conducting of these tests during the military exercises. Usually the North does not conduct kinetic provocations during such exercises, which again suggests greater risk-taking by the new leadership in Pyongyang.
Ms. Ellen Kim is deputy director with the Korea Chair at CSIS. Mr. Sang Jun Lee, research assistant with the Korea Chair and Mr. Andy Lim, an intern with the Korea Chair, provided research assistance. This post first appeared as a CSIS Critical Questions here.
Ellen Kim is a fellow with the Korea Chair at CSIS.