NKorea fires missile over Japan in longest-ever flight
Test signals defiance, technological advance, triggers sirens but causes no damage
SEOUL/TOKYO: North Korea conducted its longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile Friday, sending an intermediate-range weapon hurtling over U.S. ally Japan into the northern Pacific Ocean in a launch that signals both defiance of its rivals and a big technological advance.
The missile flew over Hokkaido in the north and landed in the Pacific about 2,000 kilometers to the east, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
It traveled about 3,700 kilometers in total, according to South Korea’s military – far enough to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, which the North has threatened before.
Since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” in August, the North has conducted its most powerful nuclear test, threatened to send missiles into the waters around the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam and launched two missiles of increasing range over Japan. July saw its first tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could strike deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.
Russia said the missile test was part of a series of unacceptable provocations and that the U.N. Security Council was united in believing such launches should not occur.
President Vladimir Putin discussed the launch in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron and agreed on the need for a diplomatic solution, including through resuming direct talks on North Korea, the Kremlin said in a statement.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the missile launch as a serious violation of Security Council resolutions coming less than two weeks after the North’s sixth nuclear test, which also violated a U.N. ban.
The Security Council Monday unanimously approved its toughest sanctions yet on North Korea over its nuclear test.
North Korea’s weapons tests demonstrate that it can “turn the American empire into a sea in flames through sudden surprise attack from any region and area,” North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Friday, without mentioning the latest missile test.
South Korean President Moon Jaein, a liberal who initially pushed for talks with North Korea, said its tests now make dialogue “impossible.”
“The sanctions and pressure by the international community will only tighten so that North Korea has no choice but to take the path for genuine dialogue” for nuclear disarmament, Moon said. “If North Korea provokes us or our allies, we have the strength to smash the attempt at an early stage and inflict a level of damage it would be impossible to recover from.”
Friday’s test, which Seoul said was the 19th launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea this year, triggered sirens and warning messages in northern Japan but caused no apparent damage to aircraft or ships. It was the second missile fired over Japan in less than a month.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said the launch “put millions of Japanese into duck and cover,” although people in northern Japan seemed calm and went about business as normal.
The missile was launched from Sunan, the location of Pyongyang’s international airport and the origin of the earlier missile that flew over Japan. Analysts have speculated the new test was of the same intermediate-range missile launched in that earlier flight, the Hwasong-12, and was meant to show Washington that North Korea can hit Guam if it chose to do so.
Despite its impressive range, the missile probably still isn’t accurate enough to destroy Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, said David Wright, a U.S. missile expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Such early generation missiles are often inaccurate because of guidance and control errors during the boost and re-entry phases as the warhead passes through the atmosphere late in flight, Wright said. South Korea detected North Korean launch preparations Thursday, and Moon ordered a live-fire ballistic missile drill if the launch happened. This allowed Seoul to fire its missiles only six minutes after the North’s launch Friday. One of the two missiles hit a sea target about 250 kilometers away, which was approximately the distance to Pyongyang’s Sunan, but the other failed in flight shortly after launch, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
North Korea initially flight-tested the Hwasong-12 and the ICBM model Hwasong-14 at highly lofted angles to reduce their range and avoid neighboring countries.
The two launches over Japan indicate North Korea is moving toward using angles close to operational to determine whether its warheads can survive the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry and detonate properly.
The sanctions approved earlier this week by the U.N. Security Council over North Korea’s Sept. 3 nuclear test prohibit all textile exports and ban any country from authorizing new work permits for North Korean workers – two key sources of hard currency. They also prohibit North Korea from importing all natural gas liquids and condensates, and cap its imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry denounced the U.N. sanctions and said the North will “redouble its efforts to increase its strength to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and right to existence.”
Seoul fired its missiles only six minutes after the North’s launch