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Update: US claims North Korean ‘satellite' tests were designed to develop new ICBM

The United States has said that recent North Korean tests to support its development of a ‘reconnaissance satellite' were in fact intended for developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said on 10 March that the ICBM tests involved the same weapon that was unveiled by North Korea at a military parade in October 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

This is identified as the Hwaseong-16 (also spelt Hwasong-16) ICBM, which has an estimated range of about 8,000 miles (12,875 km). Janes assesses that it is likely that the same weapon has been developed further, with a designation of Hwaseong-17 or KN-28.

Kirby's remarks came the same day that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced a plan to expand the country's rocket-launch capacity and to position “a large number” of military reconnaissance satellites in orbit during the coming few years to monitor the US and its allies.

In late February and early March, Pyongyang announced two tests to support what it claimed was the development of these reconnaissance satellites. However, Kirby said in a statement that the US government has determined that these tests were intended for improving ICBM capability.

“Based on analysis of these launches, the United States government has concluded that these launches involved a new ICBM system that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] is developing, which was originally unveiled during the Korean Workers' Party parade on 10 October 2020,” said Kirby.

“The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch.”

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