Kim Jong-un Calls North Korea’s New Rocket System ‘an Inescapable Distress’ to Enemies

ImagePeople watched news coverage in Seoul, South Korea, of North Korea’s latest missile launch on Wednesday.
People watched news coverage in Seoul, South Korea, of North Korea’s latest missile launch on Wednesday.CreditCreditChung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

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 that could expand the North’s ability to strike South Korea and the American forces stationed there.

North Korea said the test-firing 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 occasionally been mistaken for ballistic missiles.

After watching the test-firing 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 do not represent the kind of threat that its nuclear ballistic missiles do, 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 American 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 time span, 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.

Also on Thursday, South Korea said a North Korean soldier had defected to the South. The man was found crossing a river that formed part of the western inter-Korean border shortly before midnight Wednesday, the South’s military said.

Defections from the heavily guarded inter-Korean border are rare, although more than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the South through China since a famine hit the North in the mid-1990s.

Despite three summit meetings between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea last year, inter-Korean relations have rapidly soured this year. North Korea said its missile test last week was a warning to South Korea. But President Trump said he was not upset by the North Korean test because it involved “short-range missiles and very standard missiles.”

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 9 of the New York edition with the headline: Kim Calls New Rocket ‘Inescapable’ To Enemies. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe