SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea on Tuesday tested a new multiple-rocket launcher with a range long enough to strike major U.S. and South Korean military bases south of Seoul, South Korean military officials said.
Four rockets were launched Tuesday from Wonsan, a coastal city east of the North Korean capital Pyongyang, flying 96 miles to the northeast before crashing into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said.
The spokesman said his ministry had determined that the rockets were fired from a new multiple-rocket launcher that North Korea has been developing. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing ministry policy.
Earlier Tuesday, North Korea tested an older multiple-rocket launcher, firing three rockets that flew 34 miles off its east coast, the spokesman said.
The tests were seen as Pyongyang’s latest show of force as the United States and South Korea conduct annual joint military exercises, to which the North strongly objects. Last Thursday, North Korea fired four short-range ballistic missiles that traveled 124 miles from its east coast. On Monday, it fired another short-range ballistic missile that flew 310 miles.
“We believe this is an intentional provocation to raise tensions,” the South Korean ministry spokesman said Tuesday.
Despite its moribund economy, North Korea has been conducting a vigorous missile and rocket program, trying to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. But the apparent test of the new rocket launcher Tuesday sparked special interest in South Korea.
Apart from its nuclear arms, North Korea’s multiple-rocket launchers and artillery pieces are the weapons most feared in the South. The North is estimated to have 13,000 of them clustered on the inter-Korean border, just 28 miles north of Seoul.
The North’s older, 240-millimeter multiple-rocket launchers have a range of 37 miles, putting Seoul and its 10 million people within range of rockets fired from the border. Partly for this reason, the United States and South Korea have situated major air force and other military bases well south of the capital. But South Korean military intelligence has long suspected the North of developing a longer-range rocket launcher that could reach some of those bases.
South Korea recently deployed Israeli-designed Spike missiles and their mobile launchers on its western border islands. The Spike missiles, with a range of 12 miles, target North Korean coastal guns and rocket batteries.
But the range of North Korea’s new 300-millimeter multiple-rocket launcher means that the North can keep the launchers outside the range of the Spike missiles and still be able to hit Seoul, officials here said.