SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said on Thursday that its leader, Kim Jong-un, attended the testing of a new type of large-caliber, multiple-launch, guided rocket system, which could expand the North’s ability to strike South Korea and the United States forces stationed there.
North Korea said the test-fire of its newly developed rocket system took place on Wednesday, the same day South Korea said the North launched two short-range ballistic missiles that flew 155 miles off its east coast.
It was unclear whether South Korea failed to distinguish large-caliber rockets from ballistic missiles or if the rockets were launched as part of a weapons test that also included ballistic missiles.
In recent years, as the rockets fired by North Korea from multiple-launch tubes flew higher and longer, they have been occasionally mistaken for ballistic missiles.
After watching the test-fire of the newly developed rocket system, Mr. Kim said “it would be an inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Thursday.
The North said the new rocket system was developed as part of the country’s efforts to modernize its military. Analysts in the region said North Korea has also resumed its short-range weapons tests in recent weeks to put pressure on the United States amid stalled efforts to resume denuclearization talks between the two nations.
The new rocket system has “great strategic significance” for North Korea, Mr. Kim was quoted as saying by the North Korean news agency.
Although the North’s short-range multiple rocket launchers did not represent the kind of threat that its nuclear ballistic missiles did, South Korean and United States military planners have long feared them because of their ability to rain down thousands of rockets on Seoul, the South’s capital city with 10 million people, in the first several minutes of a war.
In recent years, North Korea has tested and deployed a 300-millimeter multiple-rocket launcher system believed to have a range long enough to strike major South Korean and United States military bases, including the newly built American military hub base in Pyeongtaek, 40 miles south of Seoul.
North Korea has also been adding a guiding function to its large-caliber rockets to increase their ability to hit targets with precision, South Korean defense officials said.
For decades, North Korea has had thousands of multiple-tube rocket launchers near the border with South Korea, the world’s most heavily armed frontier. Such tubes are cheaper to deploy than ballistic missiles and enable North Korea to fire far more projectiles in a short span of time, South Korean officials said.
Before its development of nuclear warheads, the North’s frequent threats to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” were seen as references to thousands of such launchers and artillery pieces also deployed near the inter-Korean border. The North launched an artillery attack on a South Korean border island in 2010, killing four South Koreans.
Multiple-tube rocket launchers have long been a feature of military parades in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Propaganda video footage from the North also often includes such launchers spewing hundreds of rockets simultaneously in a cloud of fire and smoke.