North Korea launches suspected long-range missile at sea

North Korea has fired a suspected long-range missile at its 12th round of weapons tests this year.

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea test-fired a suspected long-range ballistic missile at sea on Thursday, its neighbors military said. The launch, which extended North Korea’s weapons test barrage this year, prompted the U.S. and South Korean military to say the country was preparing its largest-yet-intercontinental ballistic missile flight.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately say whether the weapon involved in the launch was ballistic or how far it flew. However, Japan’s Vice Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said that the missile, which reached a maximum altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles), was probably a new type of ICBM.

Japan’s coast guard, which warned ships of possible sinking in nearby waters, said they believed the missile had landed about an hour before landing outside the country’s exclusive economic zone.

It came after North Korea launched its 12th round of weapons launches this year and fired suspicious artillery pieces into the sea on Sunday. Experts say the North’s unusually fast pace of testing underscores the dual goal of putting pressure on Washington to advance its weapons and deepen the stalemate in the nuclear talks.

The North has tested a variety of new missiles, including a so-called hypersonic weapon and its first launch since 2017, a mid-range missile capable of reaching the U.S. military base at Guam in the Pacific Ocean.

It has also conducted two medium-range tests in recent weeks from Sunan, the country’s main airport home, which the US and South Korean military have assessed involving components of the largest ICBM in the north. The Allies then said that the missile, called North Hwasong-17, could soon be tested at full range.

The tests came after another launch from Sunan last week, which the South Korean military described as a failure, saying the missile may have exploded shortly after takeoff. Details of the blast and the possibility of civilian casualties remain unknown.

North Korea’s state media has insisted that the two successful tests were aimed at building cameras and other systems for a spy satellite. Analysts say the North is clearly trying to achieve some level of space-based reconnaissance capability in the guise of resuming ICBM testing and space launch to reduce the international response to these measures.

The launch is likely to coincide with a major political anniversary in April, the birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.

The previous ICBMs in the North demonstrated the potential range of American homecoming during three flight tests in 2017. The development of its larger Hwasong-17, which was first unveiled at a military parade in October 2020, probably aims to equip it with multiple warheads. To overwhelm the missile defense, experts say.

Several of North Korea’s weapons tests this year, which come amid a protracted stalemate in diplomacy, reflect its determination to seam its status as a nuclear power and the much-needed economic concessions from Washington and other rivals from a position of power, analysts say.

Yamaguchi reports from Tokyo.

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