Sun, September 24, 2017 | 17:38
Posted : 2017-09-04 16:56
Updated : 2017-09-06 14:40

N. Korea seen preparing for another ICBM test

Moon, Abe agree on ‘whole new level of pressure'

By Kim Rahn

North Korea appears to have succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said Monday, a day after Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test.

It also suspected the North will soon carry out its third test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

"We assume that North Korea has secured the capability to miniaturize its nuclear warhead to less than 500 kilograms through the six tests," Song said during a National Assembly session.

He added the government presumes the warhead is small enough to be mounted on an ICBM.

After conducting its sixth nuclear test Sunday, Pyongyang claimed it had developed a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted on its new ICBM. North Korea has test-fired two such missiles so far, July 4 and 28, claiming the long-range missile can strike the U.S. mainland.

The ministry and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said they had detected signs of North Korea preparing for another ICBM launch.

According to the NIS, it is likely the North will carry this out around its Foundation Day, Sept. 9, or the anniversary of its Communist Party, Oct. 10.

It said there is a chance Pyongyang will fire an ICBM into the Pacific Ocean on either of the days using a regular trajectory rather than the high-angle one it has used to date.

The NIS also said Sunday's test was conducted at the second shaft of the North's nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, and additional tests are possible at any time because the third and fourth shafts have also been prepared.

It estimated the explosion yield of the nuclear test at about 50 kilotons, five times stronger than the North's fifth test about a year ago, but added it is examining whether it was really a hydrogen bomb or an enhanced nuclear weapon.

The defense ministry said it is consulting with the U.S. about deploying a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and strategic bombers here. "We asked the U.S. to regularly deploy assets of extended deterrence such as aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines," Minister Song said.

He said participants of the National Security Council presided over by President Moon Jae-in right after the test Sunday agreed that it was time to focus on pressure rather than the peace overture proposed in Moon's Berlin speech in July.

Live-fire drill targets nuclear test site

In a direct response to the nuclear test, the military conducted a live-fire missile drill Monday, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

It set the range of the simulated targets to that of Punggye-ri, the first exercise with real-distance targeting of the site.

"We conducted a combined live-fire exercise early in the morning, as a strong warning following Pyongyang's sixth nuclear test," the JCS said in a press release.

The military used a Hyunmoo-2A surface-to-surface missile and the F-15K's SLAM-ER air-launched cruise missile, which hit the designated targets in the East Sea accurately.

"The missiles were fired at targets which were set in accordance with the distance to the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri," JCS spokesman Roh Jae-cheon said. "We showed the capability of pinpoint strikes at the origin of provocations and the enemy's leadership."

The Hyunmoo-2A missile's range is about 300 kilometers, while Punggye-ri is about 280 kilometers away from Sokcho, Gangwon Province, where the exercise was conducted.

The weight of the missile's warhead was 1.5 tons, which can destroy underground bunkers in North Korea, according to the JCS. The SLAM-ER, with the capability of pinpoint strikes, can put all of North Korea within range if launched near the Military Demarcation Line.

The South Korean and the U.S. military authorities also plan to stage a joint show-of-force soon.

Talks with Abe

In the meantime, President Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a whole new level of countermeasures against North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

During a 20-minute phone conversation, the two leaders expressed serious concerns about the power of the North's hydrogen bomb and the possible use of it on an ICBM as Pyongyang has threatened.

"They agreed that the two nations and the international community need to cooperate on the strongest pressure and sanctions," presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun said. "They urged a whole new level of practical and strongest-ever measures, which will put real pressure on Pyongyang."

Moon and Abe will first seek a new round of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which can make the North return to negotiations, Park said.

Besides the heads of the states, National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong and U.S. President Donald Trump's security adviser H.R. McMaster had a phone talk to share information about the test. They agreed that the countries would take all future actions based on close and transparent consultation with each other.

Chung and McMaster have had three phone calls in 24 hours since the test Sunday afternoon.

Top nuclear envoys of South Korea, Japan and the U.S. also agreed on stern countermeasures against the North's nuclear threats.

Kim Hong-kyun, the special representative for the Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs at the foreign ministry, had respective phone calls with his Japanese and U.S. counterparts, Kenji Kanasugi and Joseph Yun, Sunday evening, according to the foreign ministry, and talked about strongest possible actions against Pyongyang.

Seoul and Washington also decided to hold an annual meeting of director-level officials from foreign and defense ministries as part of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG), which was launched last October.

The EDSCG will operate on two tracks ― an annual working-level session led by director-level officials and a biannual executive session led by vice minister-level officials. Every two years when the executive session is not held, a so-called 2+2 meeting of foreign and defense ministers will take place, according to a joint press release from the two countries.

관련 한글 기사

北 다음 도발 카드는…ICBM 재진입 테스트?

재진입 능력 실전환경서 과시 가능성…북극성-3·화성-13 발사도 거론

북한이 대륙간탄도미사일(ICBM) 탑재용 수소폭탄 실험 성공 주장에 이어 또 다른 도발을 벌일 가능성이 있다는 관측이 나오고 있다.

특히 한미일을 중심으로 강력한 대북 추가제재 결의가 추진되는 데 맞서 북한이 연이어 도발을 감행할 가능성도 배제할 수 없다는 전망이다.

북한 핵무기연구소는 3일 '수소탄 시험' 성공을 주장하는 성명에서 이번 실험이 '국가 핵무력 완성의 완결단계 목표를 달성하는 데서 매우 의의 있는 계기로 된다'고 밝힌 바 있다.

이는 뒤집어 말하면 아직 핵무력 완성의 '완결단계'에 이르지 못했다는 의미다.

따라서 북한은 정치적 목적 외에도 기술적인 측면에서 핵능력의 '완성'을 선언하겠다는 목표하에 추가적인 전략 도발을 감행할 가능성이 있다.

우선 아직 검증되지 않은 ICBM의 대기권 재진입 기술 확보를 대외적으로 과시하기 위해 추가적인 미사일 도발에 나설 가능성이 제기된다.

북한이 7월 28일 발사한 ICBM급 '화성-14형'의 경우 대기권에 재진입할 때 탄두부(재진입체)가 모두 녹아버린 것으로 정보당국은 최종 분석한 것으로 알려졌다.

북한이 지난달 29일 중장거리탄도미사일(IRBM) '화성-12형'을 고각이 아닌 정상 각도로 북태평양을 향해 발사한 것에도 실전적 환경에서 대기권 재진입 기술을 시험하려는 목적이 있다는 관측이 제기된 바 있다.

이런 점에서 북한이 향후 ICBM급 미사일을 태평양을 향해 정상 각도로 발사한 뒤 대기권 재진입 기술을 확보했다는 증거를 보여주려 할 가능성이 있다.

ICBM 탄두부가 대기권에 들어갈 때의 열과 압력을 견디며 예정된 궤도를 비행한 뒤, 의도한 고도에서 기폭장치가 정상적으로 작동했다는 것을 증명하려 할 수 있다는 것이다.

ICBM급으로 추정되는 '화성-13형'이나 잠수함발사탄도미사일(SLBM) '북극성-3형' 등 아직 시험발사를 하지 않은 신형 미사일을 발사할 수 있다는 관측도 있다.

북한은 최근 김정은 위원장의 국방과학원 화학재료연구소 시찰을 보도하며 이들 두 미사일의 개략적 구조도를 의도적으로 노출한 바 있다.

김 위원장이 화성-12형 발사 당시 '앞으로 태평양을 목표로 삼고 탄도로켓 발사훈련을 많이 하라'고 지시한 것도 추가 미사일 도발이 계속될 것이라는 관측을 뒷받침한다.

아울러 북한이 ICBM 탑재를 위한 핵탄두 소형화 기술의 완성 단계에 근접했는지에 대해서도 전문가들의 의견이 엇갈리고 있어 향후 일정 시점에 추가적인 핵실험에 나설 가능성도 배제할 수 없다.

북한은 핵·미사일 능력 확보를 과시하기 위한 각종 실험과 함께 김 위원장의 무기 연구·개발 현장시찰 공개를 병행하면서 '미래의 핵능력'에 대한 위협도 계속해 나갈 가능성이 있다.

북한은 각종 정치적 기념일 즈음에 핵·미사일 도발에 나선 사례가 많다.

북한의 '몰아치기성 무력시위' 행태로 볼 때 닷새 남은 정권수립 기념일(9월 9일)에 또다시 도발을 감행할 가능성도 있지만, 이번 '9·9절'은 6차 핵실험 성과를 부각하며 특별한 추가 도발 없이 넘어갈 수 있다고 전문가들은 전망한다.

이 경우 북한은 유엔 안전보장이사회의 신규 대북제재 논의 상황 등을 지켜보면서 다음 달 10일 노동당 창건일을 전후해 도발할 가능성이 있다는 관측도 나온다.

양무진 북한대학원대 교수는 '정권수립일에 도발을 할 가능성은 있지만, 수소폭탄 실험 성공에 의한 자축 군중대회 등을 통해 체제 결집에 집중할 가능성이 더 높은 것으로 보여진다'고 말했다.(연합)