North Korea’s Latest Missile Test Suggests Arms Race With South

North Korea said on Tuesday that it had tested a new ballistic missile with a “super-large warhead,” the most recent development in an arms race with South Korea as the countries vie to introduce weapons of increasingly destructive power.

Two of the new missiles, known as the Hwasong-11Da-4.5, were launched on Monday, each with a dummy warhead that weighed 4.5 tons, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. ​Ballistic missiles often carry warheads that weigh less than a ton.

South Korea already has similar missiles that can deliver large warheads. Col. Lee Sung-jun, a spokesman for the South’s military, said the North’s Hwasong-11 series missiles were believed to be capable of carrying payloads of half a ton to 2.5 tons, but that it was “theoretically possible” to modify them to deliver a 4.5-ton payload.

But Colonel Lee accused North Korea of deceptively exaggerating its capabilities in the Tuesday report. One of the two missiles the North launched on Monday crashed in an empty field after an “abnormal” flight, he said.

The United States has accused North Korea of supplying Hwasong-11 missiles to Russia for use against Ukraine. ​Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied trading in arms, which would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions imposed on the North because of its nuclear weapons program.

The launch Monday was the second major weapons test reported by the North since its leader, Kim Jong-un, hosted President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for talks in Pyongyang on June 19. Last week, North Korea claimed for the first time that it had tested technology for launching several nuclear warheads with a single missile; the South cast doubt on that report, too.

South Korea, citing the North’s growing nuclear threat, has ramped up its own military spending​ in recent years. That includes its development of ballistic missiles with large warheads, meant to target underground bunkers where North Korea keeps its nuclear arsenal, and where its political and military leaders could hide in the event of war​. The South has also procured American stealth jets.

In 2020, the South said it ha​d developed a ballistic missile with ​ “one of the largest warheads in the world​.” I​n 2021, Mr. Kim vowed to develop a “super-large nuclear warhead,”​ and later that year, North Korea said it had launched a new ballistic missile that​ could carry a 2.5-ton warhead. ​

South Korean defense officials later said they were developing a ballistic missile with ​an even bigger warhead. South Korean news outlets said it could carry a payload of up to ​eight tons.

Mr. Putin’s visit to Pyongyang last month triggered fears in the region that Russia would ​help North Korea develop its missiles in return for large shipments of artillery shells, ballistic missiles and other conventional munitions for Russia’s war of attrition in Ukraine.​ Mr. Kim and Mr. Putin also signed a ​treaty that included a pledge of mutual defense if either ​country were attacked.

North Korea said its missile test this week was a success “of great significance.” The results were reported to a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee that ended on Monday, the state media report said. It said the Hwasong-11Da-4.5 would be tested again later this month.

Mr. Kim has used Workers’ Party meetings to issue​ policy goals and to tighten his grip on power. ​For the first time, state media photos from the latest meeting showed delegates wearing pins bearing ​Mr. Kim’s image, like the ones they have worn for years to honor Mr. Kim’s predecessors as supreme leader, his father and his grandfather.

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