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War of words erupts over North Korea’s multi-warhead missile test claims

But analysts argue the South may have misinterpreted the test, with one suggesting Seoul “might have mistaken” the payload module deploying warheads for the missile itself exploding.

North Korean state media described Wednesday’s launch as a successful “separation and guidance control test of individual mobile warheads”.

It claimed the test aimed to advance the development of MIRV technology needed to enable multiple warheads from a single launch.

“North Korea’s missile launched yesterday exploded in an early stage of the flight,” Colonel Lee Sung-jun, spokesman for Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Thursday.

The North said the test used “the first-stage engine of an intermediate-range solid-fuel ballistic missile within a 170km-200km radius”, which is favourable for measuring the flight characteristics of the MIRV.

The MIRV was accurately guided to three target coordinates, it claimed.

Its Missile General Bureau “successfully conducted” a test of manoeuvrable warheads’ separation and guidance, which was “of great significance in achieving the goal of upgrading missile technology”, mouthpiece newspaper Rodong Sinmun said.

The goal of the test was “to ensure the capability of destroying different targets with multiple warheads”, it said.

However, experts argue that further validation is needed, noting that the North has a track record of exaggerating military technology advances and manipulating pictures of missile launches.

“Barring such an alteration of photos, these pictures published by North Korean media appear to back up their allegations that the test was for verifying technology needed for a missile carrying multiple warheads and decoys”, Lee Il-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defence Network think tank, told