North Korean rocket launchers fire weapons during a "strike drill" Saturday to test long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons into the East Sea at an undisclosed location in North Korea, North Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday. Photo by KCNA/UPI
May 5 (UPI) -- North Korea on Sunday acknowledged it tested multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons one day earlier in a "strike drill" to test their effectiveness.
On Saturday, South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said neighboring North Korea fired numerous short-range "projectiles" into the East Sea. Earlier in the day, it said they were multiple short-range "missiles."
Despite the launches, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday "real progress" has been in denuclearization mainly because U.S. sanctions have been putting press on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to negotiate.
"We still believe there is a path forward where Chairman Kim can denuclearize without resort to anything beyond diplomacy," Pompeo said on CBS's Face the Nation.
Kim supervised the "strike drill of defense units in the forefront area and on the eastern front which took place in the East Sea of Korea on Saturday," the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported, according to Yonhap News Agency in South Korea.
"The purpose of the drill was to estimate and inspect the operating ability and the accuracy of striking duty performance of large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons by defense units in the frontline area and on the eastern front," the KCNA said.
"And the combat performance of arms and equipment and to more powerfully arouse the entire army to the movement for becoming crackshots with the drill as an occasion and thus put it at combat readiness posture all the time."
Kim urged his troops to bear in mind "the iron truth that genuine peace and security are ensured and guaranteed only by powerful strength."
According to a photo released by the state-run media, Kim appeared to have watched the launches from an observatory at a location some distance away from the launch site.
In photos closer up, the projectiles appeared to be solid-fuel ballistic missiles similar to a Russian Iskander, Melissa Hanham, a non-proliferation expert and director of the One Earth Future Foundation's Datayo Project, told Bloomberg News.
"They did indeed test a new short-range missile, or as others call close-range ballistic missile, and this was not just an artillery drill," Nathan Hunt, an independent defense researcher, told Bloomberg News.
On Sunday, South Korea's defense ministry confirmed that the projectiles involved a new tactical guided weapon, and 240-mm and 300-mm multiple rocket launchers. The ministry updated the range of 43 to 149 miles from the longest distance of 124 miles.
The projectiles were fired between 9:06 a.m. and 9:27 a.m. local time near the east coast town of Wonsan, the JCS said.
A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. showed what appeared to be a single missile contrail at the exercise site.
South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are jointly analyzing the specific weapons' types and capabilities.
"Our military is keeping the firm defense readiness together with the U.S. while backing up the ongoing diplomatic efforts with intense strength," South Korea's Defense Ministry said in a release.
The launch of "tactical guided weapons" could be in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution that bans the communist nation from all kinds of ballistic missile launches.
The distinction between "projectiles" and "missiles" could be a key in future talks between the United States and North Korea.
U.S. President Donald Trump has cited Kim's self-imposed freeze on missile and nuclear weapons tests to support his decision to continue talks with the the North Korean leader.
Trump walked away from a summit on nuclear dismantlement in February with Kim without reaching a deal.
North Korea wanted sanctions relief for partial denuclearization, but the United States refused to relax sanctions without complete denuclearization. Kim said last month that he would be willing to hold another summit with Trump if the United States changes its hard-line stance on sanctions relief.