North Korea is testing 2 ballistic missiles, Seoul says
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles at its eastern waters on Sunday, its first weapons testand two days after it claimed to have conducted a key test needed to build a more mobile, more capable ICBM to hit the US mainland.
The South Korean military detected the launch of two North Korean ballistic missiles from North Korea’s Tongchangri area. The missiles flew over the country toward its eastern waters, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
It said the missiles were fired about 50 minutes apart but gave no further details on exactly how, what type of weapons North Korea fired and how far they flew. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the South Korean military has strengthened its surveillance position and is maintaining a readiness in close coordination with the United States.
Japanese officials also said they spotted the two missile launches from North Korea. The Coast Guard said the missiles fired by North Korea fell into the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Japan Coast Guard officials said both missiles landed outside of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Tongchangri area is home to North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, where the country has launched long-range satellite-carrying missiles in what the UN has dubbed a stealth test of ICBM technology in recent years.
On Thursday, North Korea also conducted what it called a test of a “high-thrust solid-fuel engine” for a new strategic weapon at the Sohae facility, a development experts say could allow it to add a more mobile, hard-hitting arsenal to a more ballistic arsenal to detect ICBMs capable of reaching the US mainland.
It was not immediately known if Sunday’s launches were from the Sohae facility.
Sunday’s launch is the North’s first public weapons test since the country last month launched its Hwasong-17 liquid-fuelled ICBM, which has the longest range capable of reaching the entire US homeland. In recent months, North Koreaof missiles at record speeds, despite pandemic-related economic difficulties and US-led pressure to curb its nuclear program.
North Korea has defended its weapons tests as self-defense measures to deal with expanded US-South Korea military drills, which it considers an invasion rehearsal. However, some experts say North Korea likely used its rivals’ military training as an excuse to expand its arsenal and increase its influence in future negotiations with the US. Last month, President Biden and the leaders of Japan and South KoreaResponse to North Korea’s missile and nuclear program.
The weapon North Korea could build with the recently tested engine likely relates to a solid-fuel ICBM, which is among a list of high-tech weapons systems that leader Kim Jong Un wanted to procure ahead of schedule during a major conference of the ruling Labor Party last year. Other weapons systems Kim has promised to manufacture include a multi-warhead missile, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and spy satellites.
The fuel in solid-fuel rockets is already loaded inside, which helps reduce launch preparation times, increases the weapon’s mobility, and makes it harder for outsiders to tell what’s happening prior to launch. North Korea already has a growing arsenal of short-range solid-propelled ballistic missiles that target key locations in South Korea, including US military bases there.
There were also concerns that North Korea could conduct its first nuclear test in five years. US and South Korean officials in late Octoberthat Pyongyang is preparing to test a nuclear weapon soon, which would be the first nuclear test since 2017.
The exact status of North Korea’s nuclear attack capability remains classified, as all tests of its ICBMs in recent years have been conducted at a steep angle to avoid neighboring countries.
Some experts speculate that given the many years it has devoted to its nuclear program, North Korea already has working nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the entire US. But others say the country is years away from acquiring such weapons and said it has yet to prove publicly that it has technology to protect warheads from the harsh conditions of atmosphere reentry.