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North Korea’s ballistic missiles are getting valuable battlefield testing in Ukraine

Russia’s use of North Korean missiles in its assault in Ukraine is giving Pyongyang a rare chance to test its weapons in combat and perhaps take away lessons that could improve their performance, a top U.S. general said.

“I don’t believe that in my recent memory that the North Korean military has had a battlefield laboratory quite like the Russians are affording them to have in Ukraine,” said Gen. Charles Flynn, the U.S. Army Pacific’s commanding general.

That gives North Korea an opportunity to gain valuable information in technical matters, procedures and the munitions themselves. The U.S. will be watching closely how this unfolds, Flynn said Saturday during a visit to the sprawling U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Seoul.

Flynn said a great concern for him and others is that North Korea will be able to learn things about their weapons “they would otherwise not have access to absent a conflict” like the war in Ukraine.

The U.S. will be deploying missile systems with midrange capability to the Indo-Pacific region soon, Flynn said, without giving further details on timing or locations. Such a move could draw the ire of China, which in 2019 warned that U.S. allies in the region risked countermeasures if they accepted the deployment of intermediate-range American missiles.

The U.S., South Korea and others have accused North Korea of sending to Russia its newest nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that are easy to hide, quick to deploy and hard to shoot down. Images provided by the U.S. indicate they are Hwasong-11s, a wide class of short-range ballistic missile that can reliably hit targets with a high degree of precision, according to weapons experts.

They have ranges of 380 to 800 kilometers and increase the pool of weapons Russian President Vladimir Putin can draw upon. Prosecutors in Kharkiv said in March that Russian forces have fired North Korean missiles at Ukraine about 50 times since the start of the invasion, providing documentation for what it said included a Hwasong-11 family missile, specialist service NK News reported.

The North Korean missiles sent so far are similar in size and flight dynamics to Russia’s Iskander series, weapons experts have said. A report last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed that the U.S. Patriot air defense system has so far been largely effective in countering Russia’s missiles.

U.S. allies South Korea and Japan both deploy Patriot batteries. These air defense systems have a powerful radar able to track as many as 100 targets including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and aircraft, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

The U.S., South Korea, Japan and Europe have accused North Korea of sending massive amounts of munitions to Russia, which are interoperable with the Soviet-era systems being used in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the charges despite a multitude of satellite photos released by research groups and the U.S. government showing the flow of weapons from North Korea to Russia and then to munitions dumps near the border with Ukraine.

In return for the arms, which are likely valued at several billion dollars, Russia is providing North Korea with food, raw materials and parts for weapons manufacturing, South Korean officials have said. This has helped North Korean leader Kim Jong Un increase food security and further develop his weapons systems.

Flynn called North Korea’s continued testing of ballistic missiles concerning and destabilizing. Last week, Kim oversaw the test of a new ballistic missile designed to deploy a hypersonic glide vehicle that can deliver a nuclear payload to U.S. bases in Japan and Guam.

Source : Japan Times