North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile Tuesday that flew into waters east of the Korean Peninsula.
The missile, which was launched from Panghyon, in North Pyongan province, traveled more than 930 kilometers (578 miles) according to South Korea’s military, further than a May 14 missile launch that analysts described as its most successful test ever.
The projectile may have landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from its coastline, Takahiro Hirano, public affairs officer from Japan’s Ministry of Defense said.
The launch comes amid signs that US President Donald Trump is growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in curbing North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Trump quickly reacted to the launch on Twitter. “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” he asked, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
Threat to US?
The US Pacific Command said it tracked the missile for 37 minutes and described it as a “land-based, intermediate range ballistic missile.” Japan reported that its flight time was 40 minutes.
“The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) assessed that the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” a statement from US Pacific Command said.
David Wright, director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said if US Pacific Command reports on the distance and flight time of the missile are correct, the missile could have a maximum range of 6,700 kilometers (4,160 miles).
“That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska,” Wright wrote on the All Things Nuclear blog.
North Korea often times its missile tests to have maximum geopolitical impact and Tuesday’s looked to be no exception, coming on the July 4 holiday in the US, ahead of the G20 meeting later this week and after Trump spoke with Japanese and Chinese leaders Sunday about the North Korea threat.
On Friday, Trump declared US patience with North Korea was “over.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters Tuesday that the launch “ignores repeated warnings from the international community,” and that “the launch this time shows its threat was further increased.”
Data from the launch is still being analyzed, but researchers point to the similarities in this launch with the May test of the Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), which reached an altitude of over 2,100 kilometers and traveled for 787 kilometers over a flight time of 30 minutes.
That launch “could reach up to 4,500 kilometers if launched at a normal angle,” according to Kim Dong-yub of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Analysts said that the long flight time for the distance means that Tuesday’s test was likely a lofted trajectory, which sends the projectile out of the Earth’s atmosphere and back down again.
Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that North Korea might have been testing a new engine for the Hwasong.
“Forty minutes is a long flight time so (if) it performed the same way the last Hwasong did it could put it in ICBM range. But there are a number of reasons that flight time could be so long,” including unsteady flight, she said.
She said that, given the missile was launched on July 4th (local time) it could have been partially “politically motivated” but launching a missile of this type is “technically difficult.”
“If they were going to make a gamble to launch on 4th July, they’d use a more reliable missile.”
‘Out of control’?
Trump has repeatedly urged China, North Korea’s neighbor to the north and one of the only countries in the region with diplomatic ties to Pyongyang, to bring its influence to bear on the issue. He recently tweeted that Chinese efforts on North Korea, while appreciated, had “not worked out.”
On Monday Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador to the UN, warned of the risk of escalating tensions on the peninsula.
“Certainly we would like to see a deescalation of tension,” he said in remarks to the press as China assumed the United Nations Security Council presidency for July.
“Certainly if tension goes up and goes up only then sooner or later it will get out of control and the consequences will be disastrous,” Liu said.
This would be the 11th missile test conducted by North Korea this year.