U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has intensified its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance efforts and increased its ballistic missile defense readiness in response to North Korea’s tests of a new ICBM system, the Pentagon announced March 10.
According to a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby, the North Koreans conducted a pair of tests Feb. 26 and March 4 of the new intercontinental ballistic missile system known as Hwasong-16, which North Korea first revealed in an October 2020 military parade.
“The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch,” Kirby’s statement read.
The prediction of a full-range ICBM test in the near future follows an October 2021 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which assessed that “it is possible we could see a test of a long-range missile” from North Korea “over the next year.” Shortly after that report was released, North Korea tested a submarine-launched missile.
North Korea has announced missile tests in the past but did not make these latest two public—the U.S. chose to do so “because we believe it’s important to call out the behavior that we’ve been seeing, particularly in the last few weeks, and we believe it’s important for the entire international community to speak with one voice about the concerns that we know they have over the DPRK’s continued ballistic missile program,” Kirby told reporters in a March 11 briefing.
Pressed on exactly what actions INDOPACOM has made in response to the new tests, Kirby declined to discuss specifics.
“What has changed is we’ve increased ISR coverage in the Yellow Sea, and INDOPACOM has increased their ballistic missile defense readiness, and I think you can understand why we wouldn’t detail every bit of that effort,” he said.
The tactic of publicly revealing adversary actions they had not disclosed has become an increasingly common one for the Pentagon as of late—in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies repeatedly released intelligence indicating what President Vladimir Putin’s next moves might be, hoping to preempt and foil his plans. That tactic has, to an extent, continued after the invasion.
However, Kirby downplayed the notion that in revealing the North Korean ballistic missile tests, the Pentagon is following the same playbook.
“I would be careful drawing a direct bright line between these revelations about this program and revelations that we made early on, even before the invasion of Ukraine,” said Kirby. “When we believe that information should be in the public, we’re going to put it in the public. We’re going to state it as best we can. Obviously, there’s some stuff we know that we’re not going to talk about. But we believe that calling them out publicly for these tests was the right thing to do.”