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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Day after missile barrage, North fires 3 more, including ICBM

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A Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is launched from Pyongyang International Airport on Thursday, in a photo released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 18. [YONHAP]

A day after an unprecedented barrage of 23 missiles, North Korea fired three more ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Thursday morning that included an intercontinental ballistic missile, South Korean military officials said.
 
According to Seoul’s defense ministry, the North fired the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), believed by experts to be a Hwasong-17 type, from the Sunan area near Pyongyang around 7:40 a.m.  
 
The missile flew about 760 kilometers, peaking at an altitude of approximately 1,920 km and reaching a top speed of Mach 15, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).  

A South Korean military official who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity said the missile went through stage separation mid-flight, suggesting that it was a larger, long-range weapon.

Very large missiles use different tanks of propellant and fuel that detach after they have been used. The first stage of separation occurs after the propellant for take-off is exhausted, with the second stage occurring when the fuel to power the rest of the flight is depleted, with only the missile’s warhead left as it re-enters the atmosphere and heads toward its target.

Although second stage separation did occur, the detached warhead failed to maintain its intended trajectory and splashed into the East Sea just outside South Korea’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around 8:10 a.m., according to Seoul’s defense officials.

“While North Korea has a problem with stage separation where the Hwasong-17 is concerned, this is their third or fourth attempt within a year,” noted Antoine Bondaz, director of the Korea Program for the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.

“This latest launch shows they are still working on the problem, that they have enough fuel in stock and that they have a large industrial capacity to support their missile development program.”

Japan’s J-alert emergency broadcast system initially warned residents of Miyazaki, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures to take shelter at around 7:53 a.m., while the country’s national broadcaster NHK issued a report shortly after 8:00 a.m. that a North Korean missile flew over the Japanese archipelago and into the Pacific.

At a 9 a.m. press conference, Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said officials lost track of the missile while it was flying over the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, but confirmed it did not fly over Japan.  

The launch is the North’s seventh firing of an ICBM this year and the first since late May.

The ICBM launch was followed by two short-range ballistic missiles from South Pyongan Province around 8:39 a.m., according to the JCS.

The JCS also said that the missiles traveled approximately 330 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of around 70 kilometers and a top speed of Mach 5.

“Our military has beefed up surveillance and vigilance, while maintaining the readiness posture in close cooperation with the U.S.,” the JCS said in a statement.

Thursday’s launches come after the North fired a record 23 missiles from various locations on Wednesday, including one that unprecedentedly landed on the South Korean side of the inter-Korean maritime boundary and only 57 kilometers (35 miles) from the South Korean coastal city of Sokcho, Gangwon.

The North’s missile barrage came shortly after a statement from an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman released Monday that warned of “more powerful follow-up measures” if the South and the United States “continuously persists in the grave military provocations.”

South Korea and the United States started a large joint air exercise dubbed Vigilant Storm on Monday, mobilizing more than 240 aircraft including F-35A stealth fighters, F-15K jets and KF-16 jets from the South Korean Air Force and F-35B stealth fighters, EA-18 electronic warfare aircraft, KC-135 tankers and U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft from the U.S. military.

Although the exercise was meant to end on Friday, it will now be extended, likely as a result of the ongoing flurry of missile launches by the North, Yonhap reported on Thursday.

Through a U.S. State Department press release, Washington said it expressed support for Seoul in the face of Pyongyang’s actions, calling them a threat to regional peace and stability.

According to the press release, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin about the North’s missile flurry on Wednesday and “reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to the ROK’s security and safety,” as well as “the need for the international community to unite in holding the DPRK accountable for its continued disregard for multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”

ROK refers to South Korea’s official name, Republic of Korea, while DPRK refers to the North’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The statement also said Blinken “emphasized that the United States would take all necessary measures” in order “to limit the DPRK’s ability to advance its unlawful ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction program.”

In a separate statement Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price called on all countries to fully implement United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea.

“This launch underscores the need for all countries to fully implement DPRK related U.N. Security Council resolutions, which are intended to prohibit the DPRK from acquiring the technologies and materials needed to carry out these destabilizing tests,” he said.

On Tuesday, China — a permanent member of the Security Council — voted in favor of a draft resolution from the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security condemning past North Korean nuclear tests, while fellow permanent council member Russia abstained.

Resolution L.52 on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) urges United Nations member states not to carry out nuclear weapons tests.

Under the resolution, the General Assembly “would condemn the six nuclear tests conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and call on that country to abandon its nuclear weapons program,” the committee’s press release stated.

But it remains unclear what reaction either China or Russia would have to a seventh nuclear test by the North.

According to South Korea’s foreign ministry on Thursday, Seoul is considering fresh sanctions against the North in response to its evolving missile and nuclear threats.

“As North Korea’s provocations continue, we are considering imposing additional unilateral sanctions,” ministry spokesperson Lim Soo-suk said during a press briefing.  

Last month, Seoul named 15 North Korean individuals and 16 institutions on its blacklist in its first unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang in nearly five years.

Lim said South Korea was in “close consultations” with the United States, Japan and other allies on ways to enhance the effectiveness of its unilateral sanctions.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]