South Korea reported that North Korea launched a suspected intercontinental missile and two shorter-range weapons towards its eastern waters Wednesday. This came hours after President Joe Biden returned from Asia, where he reiterated the U.S. commitment in defending its allies against the North's nuclear threat.
The ICBM that was suspected didn't fly to its full range. It would have been North Korea's first test of an ICBM in two months, despite stalled nuclear diplomacy between the United States and North Korea. The launch shows that North Korea is determined not to abandon its efforts to modernize their weapons arsenal, despite the COVID-19 epidemic that has raised outside concerns about a humanitarian catastrophe.
"North Korea's continued provocations can only lead to stronger and faster South Korea/U.S. combined defense and can only increase North Korea's isolation," South Korea's government stated in a statement following an emergency security meeting.
Nobuo Kishi, the Japanese Defense Minister, called the launches "an act provocation and absolutely impermissible." However, the missile launches didn't present an immediate threat to U.S. territories or its allies.
According to South Korea's military reports, the missiles were launched from the capital of the North on Wednesday morning.
According to a military statement, the first missile was an ICBM. It reached a maximum height (540 km) and traveled 360 km (223 miles). According to the statement, the second missile was lost from South Korean radar and the third missile flew 762 kilometers (472 miles) at an apogee 60 km (37 miles).
Kim Tae-hyo is South Korea's deputy national safety adviser. He said that the first missile was the North's largest Hwasong-17 missile. This missile's potential range extends to the entire U.S. mainland. The missile was launched at a high angle, he said. He also stated that the launch was intended to review the weapon's propellant separations and stage separations. However, he could not definitively say whether the test was successful.
He stated that the tests of two other missiles, both with short range weapons, indicated North Korea's intent to increase its capability to launch nuclear strikes against its rivals.
The North Korean missile launches were part its weapon development program. However, they were strategically timed to coincide with Biden's Asia tour. They were likely to test South Korea's readiness to host the new government that was elected about two weeks ago, Kim stated.
The flight details of the suspected ICBM were identical to the two previous North Korean launches this summer, which South Korean and American militaries claimed were intended to test components of Hwasong-17 missiles in launches that flew medium ranges, but not at full range. North Korea claimed that the rockets were being launched to test spy satellite cameras.
South Korea's military detected the North Korean Hwasong-17 missile shortly after its launch. It exploded soon after liftoff. Later that month, North Korea claimed it had successfully launched the Hwasong-17 in its first full range ICBM flight test. This broke the 2018 moratorium on long distance launches.
South Korea believes North Korea may have fired a smaller ICBM than the Hwasong-17. Experts say the missile flew higher and longer than any other North weapon.
South Korean missile expert Chang Young-keun said that the North's previous launches before its exploded missile were likely to have been aimed at clustered engines. He said that he doubts that North Korea launched another ICBM Wednesday, as it would be unwise to repeat the same test and waste an ICBM worth about 10-20 billion won ($8-16million).
Chang stated that the flight details for the third missile are similar to the North Korean hypersonic missile tested in January. Analysts speculate that it could be the North’s nuclear-capable KN23 missile, which is highly maneuverable.