Seoul and Tokyo CNN —
North Korea’s suspected launch of its most powerful ICBM failed Thursday morning, a South Korean government source said, as Pyongyang stepped up its series of missile tests amid planned US and South Korean military exercises ending on Friday.
However, within hours of the alleged failed test, Washington and Seoul agreed to extend these large-scale exercises to an unknown date, according to a statement from the South Korean Air Force, which said: “It was necessary to establish a solid combined defense posture.” to demonstrate the bilateral alliance in the current security crisis, exacerbated by North Korean provocations.”
Dubbed “Vigilant Storm,” the joint drills began Monday and included 240 aircraft and “thousands of service members” from both countries, according to the US Department of Defense.
North Korea issued statements this week protesting the drills, before escalating tensions in the peninsula with a spate of weapons tests on Wednesday and Thursday.
On Thursday, after the ICBM’s alleged failed launch, North Korea called extending the drills a “very dangerous and wrong choice,” Secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea Pak Jong Chon said in a statement released by state media KCNA became .
Later Thursday night, just before US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup at the Pentagon, North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the waters off its east coast, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
“Our military has increased surveillance and vigilance and maintains a full stand-by posture while working closely with the US,” JCS said.
Austin later denounced North Korea’s “irresponsible and reckless activities” during a joint press conference with Lee.
“We have already said that these types of activities could potentially destabilize the region. So we urge them to stop these kinds of activities and start a serious dialogue,” Austin said.
The suspected ICBM Thursday morning was launched around 7:39 a.m. local time from North Korea’s west coast and flew about 750 kilometers (466 miles) before crashing into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, east of the Korean peninsula, the Japanese said Department of Defense.
The South Korean government source said officials suspect it is a Hwasong-17, North Korea’s most advanced ICBM, which was first successfully tested on March 24.
That launch set a new standard for Pyongyang, recording the highest altitude and longest duration of any North Korean missile ever tested. According to a report by the Korean Central News Agency at the time, the rocket reached a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 kilometers (3,905 miles) and flew a distance of 1,090 kilometers (681 miles). The flight time was 68 minutes, the report added.
However, a South Korean government source told CNN that officials believe the Hwasong-17 only managed to separate in the second phase and apparently failed thereafter, as it fell into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Thursday’s launch reached a maximum altitude of about 2,000 kilometers — less than a third of March’s record altitude, according to Japan’s defense ministry.
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In Japan, the suspected ICMB launch sparked warnings to seek shelter in the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata, where the Japanese prime minister’s office originally said it was likely to overfly. The Japanese Ministry of Defense later determined that the missile had not crossed Japan.
North Korea followed the suspected ICBM test Thursday with two short-range ballistic missile launches, according to South Korea and Japan.
In a statement Thursday, South Korea’s JCS said Pyongyang’s repeated launches of ballistic missiles were “a serious provocation damaging the peace and stability not only of the Korean Peninsula but also of the international community.”
US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement Thursday that Washington “strongly condemned” North Korea’s ballistic missile tests. .”
The Hwasong-17 has been described by North Korean state media as a “strong deterrent to nuclear war.”
It could, at least in theory, put the entire US mainland within range of a North Korean nuclear warhead, but there are many unknowns about the missile’s ability to deliver a nuclear payload to the target.
However, according to experts, it is large enough to carry a nuclear weapon, or possibly multiple nuclear weapons.
Thursday’s launches have pushed the number of North Korean missile tests this year to at least 30 — though the number of individual missiles is far higher, according to a CNN tally.
Weapons fired include both cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, the latter of which made up the vast majority of North Korean tests this year.
There are key differences between these two types of missiles.
A ballistic missile is launched with one or more missiles, then travels outside of Earth’s atmosphere, gliding before re-entering space, and then descends to its target, powered only by gravity.
A cruise missile is powered by a jet engine, stays in the earth’s atmosphere during its flight, and is manoeuvrable with control surfaces similar to those of an airplane.
Cruise missiles have smaller payloads than ballistic missiles and would therefore require a smaller nuclear warhead than a missile intended to hit the mainland United States, such as the U.S. B. an ICBM.
United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from testing ballistic missiles, but no such restriction applies to cruise missile testing.
North Korea’s ability to deploy a nuclear warhead on any type of missile is unproven.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced Thursday that a United Nations Security Council meeting would be held on Friday to discuss North Korea’s recent missile launches.
In an interview on MSNBC, Thomas-Greenfield condemned North Korea’s actions and called on Beijing to join in the condemnation and efforts to hold Pyongyang accountable.
“These are resolutions…that we, the Chinese and others have worked together to take action against the DPRK,” she said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name: DPRK.
The three short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea Thursday night had a flight range of about 490 kilometers (304 miles) at an altitude of 130 kilometers (81 miles), according to South Korea’s JCS.
The missiles had a top speed of about Mach 6, meaning they were traveling at six times the speed of sound, JCS said.
South Korean and US intelligence agencies are analyzing more details, JCS said.
JCS said South Korea and the US discussed the situation shortly after North Korea launched the missiles and agreed to “further strengthen” the joint defense posture against North Korean provocations.
“North Korea’s continuous launching of ballistic missiles is a serious act of provocation, damaging the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” JCS said, urging North Korea to immediately stop firing missiles.
On Wednesday, North Korea fired at least 23 short-range missiles of different types east and west of the Korean peninsula, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.
It was the highest number of North Korean short-range missiles fired in a single day and included a ballistic missile that landed near South Korean territorial waters for the first time since the partition of Korea, according to JCS.
This missile struck international waters 167 kilometers (104 miles) northwest of South Korea’s Ulleung Island, about 26 kilometers south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) — the de facto inter-Korean maritime border that North Korea does not recognize.
Seoul responded Wednesday by firing three air-to-surface missiles from F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets, targeting an area the same distance north of the NLL.