North Korea fires railway-borne missiles in third weapons test this month

North Korea’s third weapons test this month involved the firing drill of a railway-borne missile, state media KCNA has said.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said it had detected what it presumed were two short-range ballistic missiles launched eastward on Friday from North Pyongan province on the north-west coast of North Korea.

The official KCNA news agency said on Saturday that a firing drill was held to “check and judge the proficiency in the action procedures of the railway-borne regiment”, which North Korea tested for the first time last September, designed as a potential counter-strike to any threatening forces.

It was the third time North Korea has launched ballistic missiles since New Year’s Day, an unusually rapid pace of weapons tests. The previous two launches involved what state media called “hypersonic missiles”, capable of high speeds and manoeuvring after launch.

The drill came just hours after Pyongyang criticised a US pursuit of new UN sanctions over a series of recent launches as a “provocation” and warned of a strong reaction.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not attend the drill. KCNA said it was held “at short notice” from the military’s general staff but the regiment precisely struck the target set in the east coast with “two tactical guided missiles”.

The regiment “demonstrated high maneuverability and rate of hits”, and discussed ways to “set up [a] proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country”, KCNA said.

North Korea has defended the missile tests as its sovereign right to self-defence and accused the US of intentionally escalating the situation with new sanctions.

Washington condemned the latest launch, saying it posed a threat to Pyongyang’s neighbours and the international community, while reiterating calls for a restart of stalled denuclearisation talks.