Launch is ninth missile test of the year
Chad O’Carroll and Dagyum Ji
North Korea launched an unidentified projectile towards the Sea of Japan (East Sea) from near Wonsan, Gangwon Province, early on Monday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) confirmed on Monday that the missile had landed in the Sea of Japan, something that would suggest a missile launch of at least 500km east of Wonsan.
“The launch of a short-range ballistic missile occurred near Wonsan Airfield,” PACOM said in a statement. “The missile was tracked for six minutes until it landed in the Sea of Japan.”
“We are working with our interagency partners on a more detailed assessment. We continue to monitor North Korea’s actions closely.”
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed the missile had landed in the Sea of Japan, adding that there had yet to be reports of any damage to shipping in the area.
“Japan absolutely cannot tolerate North Korea’s repeated provocative actions,” he said.
South Korea’s President was immediately notified about the situation and ordered a meeting of the standing committee of the National Security Council (NSC) at 0730 KST, the JCS further said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has also reportedly been briefed on the test, according to Seoul’s Yonhap News Agency.
At a press briefing by Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) at 1030 KST, JCS spokesperson Roh Jae-cheon said that North Korea had launched “at least one” missile, but that “further analysis” was needed to determine the missile’s type.
“We are analyzing the specific number of projectiles,” Roh said. “With regard to the number of the projectiles, we are estimating that [the North launched]at least one [ballistic missile], but we are analyzing the specific number of projectiles.”
“[The missile] traveled around 450 km toward the east near from Wonsan at Gangwon Province and with the maximum altitude of around 120km.”
The missile test follows a period of almost weekly launching since May 14, just days after South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in was inaugurated and following a period of high tensions between the U.S. and North in April.
Notably, Monday’s launch coincides with Memorial Day in the United States, a public holiday for remembering Americans who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.
Overall, the latest launch is the North’s ninth of the year and follows the test-firing of a new surface-to-air missile defense system over the weekend, state media outlet the Rodong Sinmun indicated on Sunday.
The Rodong said Kim Jong Un referred to the test of the “new-type anti-aircraft guided weapon system” as having been “perfect” and said it should be “mass-produced to deploy all over the country”.
Joshua H. Pollack, a U.S. missile expert, told NK News on Monday that the intense week-on-week missile testing schedule was likely a response to Washington’s own DPRK strategy.
“It’s spelled out in a recent DPRK MFA statement: in response to “maximum pressure,” the “maximum pace” on nukes and missiles, or words to that effect,” he said.
While President Donald J. Trump has in 2017 often condemned North Korea’s missile testing program, he has been silent – publicly – throughout the DPRK’s last several tests.
The new test may, therefore, push him to respond, one London-based political specialist said.
“President Trump has tried putting off the North Korean issue, first, so that he might carry out a first foreign policy tour, second, because his administration is lurching from one domestic crisis to another, and third, because he is still holding out hope for a Chinese solution to the problem,” said John Hemmings, Director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society.
“However, if Pyongyang is able to put a nuclear payload on one of its medium-range missiles, he may find pressure “to do something” building in Washington,” Hemmings added.
Last weekend Sunday North Korea successfully tested a Pukguksong-2 missile, its second launch of the missile this year.
The Pukguksong-2 uses a solid fuel engine and will be “mass produced” and deployed following its launch last weekend, North Korean authorities announced.
A week earlier, on Sunday May 14, North Korea launched its Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile, a type that could be capable of traveling up to 4,500km.
North Korea conducted other, failed missile tests on April 29 and April 16.
The test is also North Korea’s fifth since the Mar-a-Lago summit on April 6 and 7, where President Trump spoke extensively with Chinese President Xi Jinping in their first meeting since Trump’s inauguration.
Main picture: Archive
Edited by Oliver Hotham – NK News