North Korea fired a missile early on Tuesday that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific waters off the northern region of Hokkaido, South Korea and Japan said, in a sharp escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula
North Korea fired a ballistic missile from its capital Pyongyang that flew over Japan before plunging into the northern Pacific Ocean, officials said today, an aggressive test-flight over the territory of a close US ally that sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile traveled around 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) and reached a maximum height of 550 kilometers (341 miles) as it flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
The launch appeared to be the first of a North Korean missile to cross over Japan, though some rockets it said were used to put satellites into space have done so. It also appeared to be the North’s longest-ever missile test, but South Korean officials couldn’t immediately confirm.
Each new test puts the North a step closer toward its goal of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can reliably target the United States. The North has launched at an unusually fast pace this year, and some analysts believe the North could have viable long-range nuclear missiles before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term in early 2021.
The South Korean military said it is analyzing the launch with the United States and has strengthened its monitoring and preparation in case of further actions from North Korea.
Analysts speculate the North may have tested a new intermediate-range missile that Pyongyang recently threatened to fire toward the US territory of Guam, which hosts a major military base.
This missile landed nowhere near Guam, which is about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) south of Tokyo, but the length of its flight path may have been designed for the North to show it could follow through on its threat.
Seoul says the missile was launched from Sunan, which is where Pyongyang’s international airport is, opening the possibility that North Korea launched a road-mobile missile from an airport runway.
It was North Korea’s 13th launch of ballistic missiles this year, said Roh Jae-cheon, spokesman of Seoul’s JCS. The JCS said it was the first time North Korea fired a ballistic missile from Sunan.
North Korea will no doubt be watching the world’s reaction to see if it can use today’s flight over Japan as a precedent for future launches. Japanese officials said there was no damage to ships or anything else reported. Japan’s NHK TV said the missile separated into three parts.
“We will do our utmost to protect people’s lives,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “This reckless act of launching a missile that flies over our country is an unprecedented, serious and important threat.”
Today’s launch comes days after the North fired what was assessed as three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea and a month after its second flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which analysts say could reach deep into the US mainland when perfected.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned that the North will face a “strong response” from the US-South Korean alliance if what it called nuclear and missile provocations continue.
The ministry also urged Pyongyang to accept talks over its nuclear programme and acknowledge that abandoning its nuclear ambitions is the only way to guarantee its security and economic development.
In a rare move, South Korea’s military released footage of its own missile tests it says were conducted last week. The videos showed two types of new missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers (497 miles) and 500 kilometers (310 miles) being fired from truck-mounted launchers during three tests conducted on August 24.
South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development said the launches represented the last flight test for the longer-range missile before it is operationally deployed.
Such missiles, which would be latest additions to South Korea’s Hyumoo family of missiles, are considered key components to the so-called “kill chain” pre-emptive strike capability the South is pursuing to cope with the North’s growing nuclear and missile threat.
South Korea also said its air force also conducted a live-fire drill involving four F-15 fighters dropping eight MK-84 bombs that accurately hit targets at a military field near the country’s eastern coast.
Park Su-hyun, spokesman of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said the exercise was conducted after Moon directed the military to “display a strong capability to punish” the North.
Park said Moon’s national security director Chung Eui- yong and Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa called Trump’s national security adviser H R McMaster and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, respectively, to discuss the launch. The launch over Japan isn’t a total surprise. Earlier this month, when threatening to lob four Hwasong-12s, which are new intermediate-range missiles, into the waters near Guam, North Korea specifically said they would fly over Japanese territory.