North Korea reportedly launched at least one suspected ballistic missile toward the sea on Thursday, prolonging a blitz of weapons tests that might culminate in the launch of its largest-yet intercontinental ballistic missile.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea did not immediately confirm if the weapon used in the launch was a ballistic missile or how far it traveled. The launch, according to Japan’s Prime Minister’s Office Defense Ministry, may have involved a ballistic missile. The coast guard of Japan, which issued a warning to neighboring vessels about the possibility of falling items, believes the missile flew for almost an hour before landing outside the country’s exclusive economic zone.
It was North Korea’s 12th round of missile launches this year, after its Sunday launch of suspected artillery pieces into the sea. Experts believe the North’s unusually rapid testing activity reflects its twin objective of improving its armament while also exerting pressure on Washington over a growing stalemate in nuclear talks.
The North has also tested a number of new missiles, including a rumored hypersonic weapon and its first intermediate-range missile launch since 2017, which could reach Guam, a vital US military base in the Pacific.
In recent weeks, it also conducted two medium-range tests in its capital region, which the US and South Korean forces later concluded involved components of the North’s biggest ICBM, the Hwasong-17, which they predicted may be tested at full range shortly.
The two tests, according to North Korea’s state media, were intended at perfecting cameras and other equipment for a spy satellite. Analysts believe the North is seeking to recommence ICBM testing while also acquiring some sort of space-based reconnaissance capacity under the guise of a space launch to deflect international criticism of its actions.
The launch may probably happen around a big political milestone in April, the birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.
During three flight tests in 2017, the North’s prior ICBMs displayed potential range to strike the American homeland. Experts believe it is developing the bigger Hwasong-17, which was originally displayed at a military parade in October 2020, with the goal of arming it with several warheads to overwhelm missile defenses.
Analysts believe North Korea’s series of weapons tests this year, which coincide with a lengthy diplomatic impasse, indicate a drive to solidify its reputation as a nuclear power while also extracting much-needed economic concessions from Washington and other adversaries.