North Korea fired an “unidentified projectile” on Wednesday but the launch appears to have failed, Seoul said, with analysts believing it could be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) dubbed a “monster missile”.
The firing comes days after Washington accused Pyongyang of planning a “full-range” missile launch that would end a self-imposed moratorium in 2017.
The failed launch would be Pyongyang’s tenth weapons test since the start of the year, after seven missile tests and two tests described as “reconnaissance satellites” by North Korea.
South Korea and the United States said last week that the tests were in fact for a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system that has never been launched before — dubbed a “monster missile” by analysts.
The alleged ballistic missile “appears to have exploded in midair shortly after launch,” South Korean chiefs of staff told AFP.
The shooting took place from the Sunan area around 9:30 a.m. (00:30 GMT), according to them.
The February 27 and March 5 launches also came from the Sunan area in Pyongyang.
Japanese media reported that Pyongyang may have fired a ballistic missile, citing an unidentified Defense Ministry official.
According to Japanese public television NHK, senior government officials are meeting in the Prime Minister’s office to discuss the situation.
– “Moment optimal”-
The United States said this week it had “intensified” its missile defense systems in South Korea and conducted a carrier-based aerial demonstration in the Yellow Sea in the wake of recent North Korean fire.
North Korea has long wanted an ICBM capable of carrying multiple warheads, the Hwasong-17 which was first unveiled at a parade in October 2020.
“There are signs that the North tested Hwasong-17 today,” Cheong Seong-chang, senior researcher at the private Sejong Institute, told AFP.
Onlookers watch archival footage broadcast by television of a North Korean missile test, at a train station in Seoul on March 16, 2022 / © AFP
This device has never been tested, but Washington claimed last week that Pyongyang had recently tested parts of it disguised as a satellite.
North Korea is under tough international sanctions over its missile and nuclear weapons program, but the United States has said the tests are a “serious escalation” and will be punished.
Pyongyang is observing a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range weapons testing but with talks deadlocked and sanctions still in place, it looks set to break it.
– “Perfect moment” –
“As it is now highly unlikely that Russia will agree to take additional sanctions against the North should such a test be launched in the context of its invasion of Ukraine, Pyongyang seems to have judged that it was the optimal time to act,” Cheong said.
It may take about three tests to make sure the missile works, he said, adding he expects “the North to do one or two more test launches before April 15,” he said. -he adds.
North Korea will celebrate the 110th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder and grandfather of Kim Jong Un, in April, and satellite images indicate North Korea is preparing for a military parade.
Missile fire by North Korea / © AFP/Archives
“The regime intends to demonstrate its new technical prowess around the 110th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“If the latest missile launch is indeed a failure, it is almost certain that North Korea will continue to test.”
The fact that Wednesday’s launch failed indicates that it was not an “ordinary missile,” North Korean specialist Ahn Chan-il told AFP.
The timing, during the tense period in the presidency in South Korea and as the world’s eyes are on the invasion of Ukraine, shows that Pyongyang is seeking maximum leverage, he added. .
A new ICBM launch would be the first challenge for South Korea’s new president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher line in the face of provocations from the North.
Mr. Yoon has not ruled out the possibility of dialogue with Pyongyang but analysts say his hawkish stance drastically reduces the prospect of meaningful dialogue.