North Korea launched twointermediate-range ballistic missiles from its east coast early Wednesday morning, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. Unlike previous attempts, both launches were successful.
The first test terminated after a short flight but in the second attempt, the missile ascended in a steep trajectory that managed to reach apogee at an altitude of 1,000 km and impacted at sea, about 400 km from its launch point.
Both flights represent a significant improvement over previous attempts, where the missile failed seconds after liftoff.
By evening Pyongyang declared thesuccessful. The missile was identified as ‘Hwasong-10’, according to Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea “The North launched one missile presumed to befrom areas near Wonsan at around 5:58 a.m., but it is assumed to be unsuccessful,” the JCS said in a brief release. The missile was launched successfully, but disintegrated mid-air after a flight of about 150 km (95 miles).
A follow-on launch of another missile took place about two hours later; on this test, the missile succeeded to ascend to an altitude of 1,000 km (620 miles) Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani said, indicating North Korea had made progress.
That missile plunged into the Sea of Japan, about 400 km (250 miles) from its launch point. “We don’t know whether it counts as a success, but North Korea has shown some capability withs (intermediate range ballistic missiles),” Nakatani told reporters in Tokyo.
According to western analysts, the flight parameters of the recent test indicate that the flight profile used for the second flight has challenged the missile to consume the entire propellant in its fuel tank within the international water surrounding the Korean peninsula.
Using such trajectory the Koreans could test the missile and its propulsion system to its limit, including reentry and high-speed endo-atmospheric flight, within the relatively short distance.
The Musudan has an estimated range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres (1,550 to 2,500 miles).
On its latest test flight the missile was launched at an estimated angle of 78-80 degrees, compared to 45 degrees which would yield the maximum range.
The lower range covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on Guam.
So far, North Korea has attempted to test-fire the Musudan missile four times – first on April 15, two more on April 28 and the latest on May 31 this year – but all ended in failure, with the missile exploding in midair shortly after launch or on a mobile launcher or crashing seconds after launch.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the launches as violations of Council resolutions.
Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, and later that month launched a long-range rocket that some say was a cover for a test of banned missile technology.
“It claims to have tested its first hydrogen bomb, although this account is disputed, but experts do say they appear to have at least tested some components of a hydrogen bomb,” said Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi.
“So it does appear that they are accelerating their nuclear program and their ballistic weapons programme.
And it has increased tensions, not only on the Korean Peninsula, but also in the region.”
The tests in January saw the UN Security Council impose its toughest sanctions to date on the North.
North Korea has claimed a number of technical breakthroughs in recent months in its push to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear payload to targets across the continental US.
But officials in South Korea say the North does not yet possess such a weapon.
Recently claimed achievements include the creation of a solid-fuel missile engine, the development of a nuclear warhead capable of withstanding atmospheric re-entry, and the miniaturisation of a nuclear warhead.
Experts outside the country have been sceptical of Pyongyang’s claims, but have acknowledged that the North has made significant gains in improving its nuclear arsenal.
The Korean Peninsula has remained in a technical state of war since the end of the Korean War in 1953, when an armistice brought an end to fighting but a peace treaty was never signed.
The US has some 28,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea to deter any potential aggression from North Korea.