The suspected ICBM flew to an altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) and 1,080 kilometers (671 miles) with a flight time of 71 minutes before splashing down in waters off Japan’s west coast Thursday, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry.
Japan’s Deputy Defense Minister Makoto Oniki told reporters Thursday that the missile’s height would suggest it was a “new type of ICBM,” a possible indication that North Korea is close to developing weapons capable of targeting the United States.
The United States joined its allies South Korea and Japan in strongly condemning the launch on Thursday and calling on North Korea to refrain from further destabilizing actions.
US President Joe Biden is currently in Belgium, where he is attending the G7 summit alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The meeting is part of a series of meetings, including an extraordinary NATO summit, as Western leaders seek to align their responses to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. The European Council meeting will also take place on Thursday.
“North Korea refuses to be ignored and may try to take advantage of the global preoccupation with the war in Ukraine to dictate its status as a nuclear weapons state,” Lev Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told CNN.
“North Korea is not close to initiating aggression on the scale of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Pyongyang’s ambitions similarly go beyond self-defense as it wants to overturn the security order in post-war Asia,” Easley added.
In response to the suspected ICBM test Thursday, the South Korean military launched several warning missiles for the first time since 2017, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a text sent to reporters.
“Our military is monitoring the movements of the North Korean military and has confirmed that we have the capability and the position to strike the original missile launch site and command and support facilities any time North Korea launches a missile,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Analysts said North Korea apparently conducted a so-called upper missile test on Thursday. “This is a tactic they often use to test long-range systems without flying provocatively over another country,” said Joseph Dempsey, a research associate in defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
He said preliminary data for Thursday’s test suggested it could be the Hwasong-17, an ICBM much larger than the Hwasong-15 tested in 2017.
Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the data suggested Thursday’s missile could have a maximum range of about 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles) — theoretically making it within reach of the continental United States, depending on the weight of the warhead. Which you will carry – and further than Hwasong-15 by about 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).
Despite the potentially expanded scope, Kim said Pyongyang has yet to prove it can master the technology required to enable a warhead to successfully re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in the final stages of flight.
The US Indo-Pacific Command announced earlier this month that the US is ramping up “intelligence-gathering, readiness, and surveillance activities” related to North Korea after the recent missile launches.
The move is a signal from the Biden administration that it needs to bolster its military posture to ensure that the United States and its allies in the region such as South Korea and Japan are protected from North Korean missile tests.
The command said that it “ordered to intensify intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities in the Yellow Sea, as well as to enhance readiness among the ballistic missile defense forces in the region.”
Earlier this month, the US military conducted exercises in and around the Korean peninsula to demonstrate its readiness in the wake of North Korean activity, including simulating ballistic missile defense systems.
The US Army’s 35th Air Defense Brigade has moved to a remote location, “occupying its wartime defensive position, installing the Patriot missile system and carrying out air and missile defense operations in a simulated combat scenario,” US Forces Korea said in a press release.
At sea, F-35 and F/A-18 fighter jets flew off the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln along with U.S. Air Force assets stationed in the region in a show of force in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of South Korea, according to a statement. Issued by the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Japan.
This story has been updated to clarify the location of the missile.
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