The First North Korean Weapons Test of the Year: What Does It Mean?

On March 2, 2020 at 12:37pm (KST), North Korea launched two short-range projectiles from the Wonsan, Kangwon Province area towards the East Sea. The projectiles traveled a distance of 240km (150 miles) at a maximum altitude of 35km (22 miles) with a 20-second interval between the two launches. While the exact type and model of the projectiles are yet to be confirmed, considering the nature of the test they may be SRBMs or new surface-to-surface missiles. The short interval time also indicates that the event may have been a multiple rocket launcher system test.

Key Findings

  • This is the first launch by North Korea in 95 days since the November 28, 2019 short-range projectile launches, which also took place from a large-caliber multiple launch rocket system, and the first in the new year following the 13 projectile launches that occurred in 2019.
  • These tests take place despite the U.S. decision to postpone annual spring military exercises due to COVID-19. CSIS Beyond Parallel data studies show that North Korean behavior is somewhat anomalous in that it usually responds with tests when exercises take place after a period of non-dialogue with the U.S.
  • We cannot rule out the possibility of more tests as they may be a part of the joint strike drill that commenced on February 28, 2020.
  • President Trump has not responded to past short-range projectile launches, saying that many countries test them. North Korea is banned by UN Security Council resolutions from possessing or testing any ballistic missiles.