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(4th LD) S. Korea, U.S. hold missile drills as N. Korea claims key ICBM technology

2017/07/05 10:36

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(ATTN: UPDATES with details of KCNA's report, minister's remarks in paras 10-19; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo)

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, July 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States staged a massive combined ballistic missile exercise Wednesday, sending a warning message to North Korea, the allies' militaries said, a day after the communist country claimed a successful long-range missile test.

They fired a barrage of missiles, including the South's Hyunmoo-2A and the U.S. Eighth Army's ATACMS, into the East Sea, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Hyunmoo-2A is a ballistic missile with a range of 300 kilometers, and the ATACMS, or the Army Tactical Missile System, is a surface-to-surface missile.

South Korean and U.S. troops hold a joint missile exercise along the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on July 5, 2017, in this photo provided by the South's military. (Yonhap) South Korean and U.S. troops hold a joint missile exercise along the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on July 5, 2017, in this photo provided by the South's military. (Yonhap)

The live-fire training was held on the orders of President Moon Jae-in who cited the need for demonstrating the allies' missile defense posture with action, not just a statement, said Moon's office Cheong Wa Dae.

Moon delivered the proposal to U.S. President Donald Trump through their national security advisers, it added.

The U.S. troops said they mobilized the assets to counter "North Korea's destabilizing and unlawful actions" a day earlier, referencing its firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

"The deep strike precision capability enables the ROK (South Korea)-U.S. Alliance to engage the full array of time critical targets under all weather conditions," the Eighth Army said.

A Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile is fired in this file photo provided by the Ministry of National Defense. (Yonhap) A Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile is fired in this file photo provided by the Ministry of National Defense. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, the North's state media gave a detailed account of the reclusive nation's latest missile test.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the North has mastered the atmospheric re-entry technology and other skills for an ICBM via the test inspected by leader Kim Jong-un.

"The test-launch was aimed at confirming the tactical and technological specifications and technological features of the newly developed inter-continental ballistic rocket capable of carrying a large-sized heavy nuclear warhead," the KCNA said in an English-language report.

The test was also to "finally verify all technical features of the payload of the rocket during its atmospheric re-entry, including the heat-resisting features and structural safety of the warhead tip of ICBM made of newly developed domestic carbon compound material, in particular," it added.

The inner temperature of the warhead tip stayed within the range of 25-45 degrees Celsius at the time of the re-entry, with all other core devices normally operating before the missile struck a mock target accurately, it argued.

"All technological characteristics" necessary to fire an ICBM from a mobile launcher were verified as well, it said.

Kim Jong-un described the Hwasong-14 ICBM as an Independence Day "gift" for Americans.

North Korea launches a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (KCNA-Yonhap) North Korea launches a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (KCNA-Yonhap)

On Tuesday, the North announced that the missile launched on the "maximum-lofted" trajectory flew 933 km for 39 minutes, reaching an apogee of 2,802 km.

South Korean officials, however, pointed out it's premature to conclude that the North has fully developed an ICBM.

"Although its range is estimated at 7,000-8,000 km, re-entry technology and other things have not been confirmed," Defense Minister Han Min-koo said at a parliamentary session on North Korea. "What's important is whether the warhead part exercised its military performance after re-entering the atmosphere from space."

   Han said an ICBM has a top speed of 21 or higher, which causes tremendous heat and pressure.

"It means the need for enduring at least 7,000 degrees Celsius of heat," he said. "North Korea should show the warhead part that can withstand the heat if it wants to confirm that it was an ICBM."

   The South's military stressed that the allies are all set to retaliate in the case of a North Korean missile attack.

It warned that the leadership of the North Korean regime will face "destruction" if it threatens the security of the allies' people with its nuclear weapons and missiles.

In Washington, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly condemned the North's ICBM launch.

"Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region and the world," he said in a statement.

He said the U.S. would take tougher measures to hold Pyongyang accountable and reaffirmed that it will never accept the North as a nuclear power.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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