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North Korea Fires an Intermediate-Range Missile Into its Eastern Waters, South Korea Says

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Seoul, South Korea (AP) — North Korea test-fired a suspected intermediate-range ballistic missile toward waters off its eastern coast Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, as it pushes to advance its weapons aimed at remote U.S. targets in the Pacific. bulletin news

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile was launched from an area near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and flew about 600 kilometers (372 miles) before landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Lee Sung Joon, spokesperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the launch likely followed up on a North Korean test in March of a solid-fuel engine built for a new intermediate-range hypersonic missile it has been developing. If perfected, such weapons could reach the U.S. Pacific military hub of Guam and beyond, experts say.

Lee didn’t specify why the South Koreans were assessing the missile as an IRBM or whether it was flown at less than its capacity, but said the North Koreans were likely experimenting with new warhead technologies.

Japan’s Defense Ministry gave more details in its assessment, saying the missile flew about 650 kilometers (403 miles) while reaching a maximum altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles) before landing in waters outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The Japanese military didn’t immediately say whether it assessed the missile as intermediate range or something else.

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Hours after the launch, Seoul’s Defense Ministry announced that South Korea, the United States and Japan conducted a combined aerial exercise above waters near Jeju island that involved at least one nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bomber.

The United States in recent months has been increasing its deployment of strategic assets to the region, also including aircraft carriers and missile-firing submarines, in a show of force against North Korea. The South Korean ministry said Tuesday’s training, which also involved the three countries’ fighter jets, was aimed at enhancing their response capabilities against North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

North Korea's missile launch in headline news & world news
This undated photo provided Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, by the North Korean government shows what it says is an intercontinental ballistic missile launching from an undisclosed location in North Korea. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

It was the North’s first known launch event since March 18, when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a live-fire drill of artillery systems designed to target South Korea’s capital.

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Japan’s coast guard shared an assessment of the country’s Defense Ministry that the missile has already landed but still urged caution for vessels passing the area.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that no damage related to the missile has been reported. He said North Korea’s frequent missile launches “threaten the peace and safety of not only Japan but also the region and the international security.”

Tensions in the region have risen since 2022 as Kim used Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a distraction to accelerate his testing of missiles and other weapons. The United States and South Korea have responded by expanding their combined training and trilateral drills involving Japan and sharpening their deterrence strategies built around strategic U.S. assets.

There are concerns that North Korea could further dial up pressure in an election year in the United States and South Korea.

Following the March 19 test of the solid-fuel IRBM engine, Kim said the strategic value of such weapons would be just as important as his intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the U.S. mainland.

In recent years, North Korea has been focusing on developing more weapons with built-in solid propellants. Those weapons are easier to move and hide and can be made to launch quicker than liquid-propellant missiles, which need to be fueled before launch and cannot stay fueled for long periods of time.

Kim has also vowed to acquire hypersonic missiles that can overwhelm its adversaries’ missile defense systems. Other weapons North Korea have tested this year include cruise missiles and “super-large” multiple rocket launchers aimed at the Seoul capital area.

The latest launch came two days after North Korea reaffirmed its plans to launch several reconnaissance satellites this year. South Korea’s military said Monday there were no signs that a satellite launch is impending at the North’s main launch facility in the northwest.

Kim has described satellites as crucial for monitoring U.S. and South Korean military movements and enhancing the threat of his nuclear-capable missiles. Last November, North Korea put a military spy satellite into orbit for the first time.

AP journalist Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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