(Reuters) -- North Korea has test-fired a new anti-ship cruise missile, images released by state media on Saturday showed, demonstrating the increased capability of the secretive state's outdated navy.
The images were released in the lead-up to U.S.-South Korean military exercises this spring. North Korea routinely seeks to raise tensions ahead of the annual drills, although this year Pyongyang has also offered to suspend nuclear testing if Washington calls off the exercises.
The images, which were shown on the front page of the ruling Workers' Party Rodong Sinmun newspaper, showed leader Kim Jong Un observing the missile being fired from a small naval vessel.
State media described it as a "new type of cutting-edge anti-ship rocket" developed by North Korean scientists that will "bring a great change in the navy's defense of territorial waters".
The missile appeared identical in design to a Russian anti-ship missile, the KH-35, which is capable of flying at high speeds meters above the sea.
"It looks exactly like a KH-35," said Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Monterey Institute of International Studies.
North Korea test-fires new anti-ship cruise missile
PAJU, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 10: (SOUTH KOREA OUT) In this handout provided by the Jang Seong-Yoon-Donga Daily, North Korean defectors, now living in South Korea, prepare to release balloons carrying propaganda leaflets denouncing North
Korea's nuclear test, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on October 10, 2014 in Paju, South Korea. Seoul's military said they exchanged machine gun fire with North Korea on Friday, after the North opened fire toward balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets floated across the border. (Photo by Jang Seong-Yoon-Donga Daily via Getty Images)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - 2013/09/19: Pyongyang's newly built luxury housing for those citizens who are more fortunate in North Korea.
60 years after the Korean War, it is clear that not much has changed in North Korea. The country still remains under heavy censorship, with only a small portion of the population living the life of what we call 'middle class'. The people of North Korea are forced into believing that working for the greater good of the state is the formal way of presenting their national determination. The city of Pyongyang is outdated, with only a handful of cars driven by those who are a bit more fortunate. Propaganda rates are high, with many billboards displaying missiles and world domination regimes. North Korea remains a strictly isolated country where people do not have the privileges that we take for granted. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Fireworks explode above the Pyongyaang skyline during a display to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean war armistice agreement, in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013. North Korea mounted its largest ever military parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War, displaying its long-range missiles at a ceremony presided over by leader Kim Jong-Un. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
The Yanggakdo Football Stadium stands before the Pyongyang city skyline on April 13, 2012. North Korea launched a long-range rocket, South Korea's defence ministry and US officials said, with Japan saying that the launch had appeared to have failed. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - 1994/04/01: The construction skeleton of what would be the world tallest hotel. Unfortunately, the 105 story Ryuyong Hotel and its five rotating restaurants will likely never open. When personel from Hyatt hotels inspected the site they discovered that the elevator shaft wasn't even straight. (Photo by Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - 1994/02/01: A hotel on the river in Pyongyang. (Photo by Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A smartly dressed business woman walks under North Korean flags and the imposing Juche Tower.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea, Pyongyang, Moranbong Theatre, venue of National Symphony Orchestra - Fountain statues detail;
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 16, 2014: Figure 1-A. DigitalGlobe imagery of the bypass road constructed at the West Portal of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site. Date: September 16, 2014 -- published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JUNE 22, 2014: This is Figure 3-2 -- DigitalGlobe imagery of an after photo of the dam failure at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center showing sand being excavated for the new dam. Image taken on June 22, 2014 -- published on 38 North (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
This video grab taken from North Korean TV on March 20, 2013 shows a Self-Propelled Suface to Air Missile during North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's overseeing of a live fire military drill using drones and cruise missile interceptors. Kim Jong-Un oversaw a live fire military drill using drones and cruise missile interceptors, state media said, amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. ----EDITORS NOTE --- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT ' AFP PHOTO / NORTH KOREAN TV' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS -
AFP PHOTO/HO/NORTH KOREAN TV (Photo credit should read NORTH KOREAN TV/AFP/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Last June, Lewis was the first to spot what appeared to be an unconfirmed glimpse of the missile in a North Korean propaganda video."It is a capable anti-ship cruise missile that puts some teeth in recent statements about developing anti-ship capabilities," said Lewis, referring to North Korean naval exercises last month that state media said were designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers.
North Korea has increased the number of air and naval military drills in recent weeks, ahead of the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises on the Korean peninsula.
Pyongyang regularly protests over the drills, which it says are a rehearsal for war.
Officials from isolated North Korea, under increased pressure from international sanctions related to its nuclear and missile programs, have made frequent trips to Russia over the past year, where leader Kim Jong Un is scheduled to make his first official state visit this May.
"The design raises a question about whether, when, and under what circumstances, Moscow might have assisted North Korea in the development of the system," Lewis said.