On Wednesday, North Korea launched a suspected missile that appeared to explode shortly after liftoff in the skies above Pyongyang, amid reports that the nuclear-armed nation was attempting to test-fire its largest missile yet.
North Korea may be preparing to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at full range for the first time since 2017, according to the US and South Korean governments. This would be a violation of UNSC resolutions.
According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the projectile was launched from Sunan International Airport, which is located outside Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.
“It is presumed that it failed shortly after launch,” according to the statement. It was thought to be a ballistic missile that exploded in mid-air while still in its booster phase, at a height of less than 20 kilometres (12 miles), according to a JCS official.
When asked about the reported failure, a US Department of State spokesperson said it was a “ballistic missile launch” that was condemned as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
According to unnamed witnesses and a photograph of the test showing a red-tinted ball of smoke at the end of a zig-zagging plume that traced the rocket’s launch trajectory in the sky above Pyongyang, debris fell in or near Pyongyang after the failed test.
The failure of the launch highlighted the danger of North Korea’s decision to test large missiles at an airport so close to densely populated civilian areas.
In 2017, a North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile launched from a different location in the country failed to take off and crashed into an industrial or agricultural complex in Tokchon.
Several recent launches have taken place at the Sunan airport, including on February 27 and March 5. North Korea stated that the tests were conducted to develop components for a reconnaissance satellite, but did not specify which rocket it used.
North Korea has conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests this year, with its ninth test on March 5 drawing condemnation from the US, South Korea, and Japan.
In response to increased North Korean missile activity, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier led military exercises in the Yellow Sea, and air defence artillery at Osan air base in South Korea increased drills.
During Suh’s visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, the largest US overseas military base, he and US Forces Korea (USFK) Commander Gen Paul LaCamera emphasised the importance of maintaining a strong defence posture.
The Hwasong-17, North Korea’s newest and largest ICBM system, was first unveiled at a military parade in 2020 and then again in October 2021 at a defence exhibition.
North Korea has not tested an ICBM or nuclear weapon since 2017, but has indicated that it may do so again now that denuclearization talks with the US have stalled. According to US and South Korean officials, the government appears to be restoring some tunnels at its shuttered nuclear test site.
The United States and ten other countries bemoaned the UN Security Council’s failure to condemn North Korea’s repeated missile launches last week. Following the two recent launches, the US imposed new sanctions on North Korea, this time targeting Russian individuals and companies.