Launch of North Korea SLBM
A photograph released by North Korea after a test launch of a new submarine-based ballistic missile, called the Pukguksong-3, in 2021. (Rodong Sinmun)

North Korean authorities are keeping unusually mum about their two most recent ballistic missile launches.

A high-ranking source in North Korea told Daily NK yesterday that cadres who were involved in the missile launches were recalled to Pyongyang immediately following the tests.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile — presumed to be an ICBM — from Pyongyang’s Sunan area towards the East Sea on May 4.

North Korea usually discloses missile launches in KCNA or other state media the next day while explaining their significance. This time, however, no media reports appeared on May 5.

Moreover, North Korea has issued no reports regarding its launch of an SLBM from the waters off Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, on Saturday.

The source suggested this is because the two recent launches failed to attain their initially targeted thresholds.

He told Daily NK that the North Korean authorities recalled to Pyongyang around 10 individuals from each of the weapons’ development teams on May 5 and 8, the two days that followed each of the tests. Once recalled, the researchers took part in conference meetings.

The around 20 individuals who were recalled were all cadres belonging to the Academy of National Defense Science and Second Economic Committee.

The conferences were focused on giving detailed reports of the results of the launches and analyzing why they failed to achieve their targets, and there are ongoing meetings about how to craft responses to these failures.

According to the source, North Korean authorities do not regard the tests failing to achieve their objectives as a major problem. They are focusing instead on addressing the failures and ensuring that the future development schedule proceeds without a hitch.

This is because with the test schedule pushed back, officials must quickly resolve problems and begin the next stage of testing.

Accordingly, cadres involved in the last two tests apparently face no substantive punishments such as so-called “revolutionizing measures” — i.e., forced labor or ideological training — for failing to achieve their objectives.

The source said the officials involved in the May 4 test will finish their meetings before the weekend, while those involved in the SLBM test on May 7 will finish early next week.

Accordingly, there is speculation that North Korea may engage in continued shows of force, including nuclear tests and missile launches, in the weeks following the inauguration of South Korea’s new presidential administration.

Professor Lim Eul Chul of South Korea’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) at Kyungnam University said that while it is prudent to wait and see what will happen, North Korea may have discovered that the recent test results were insufficient to demonstrate improvement of the country’s capabilities. 

As a result, Pyongyang could publicize everything at once after perfecting the weapons through additional launches, he added.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to