Seoul | A North Korea missile launch meant to celebrate the birthday of the country’s founder ended in failure, US defence officials said today, an embarrassing setback in what was reportedly the inaugural test of a new, powerful mid-range missile.
It was a fiery, catastrophic attempt at a launch that was unsuccessful, said Capt Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. He said US officials are still assessing, but it was likely a road-mobile missile, given that it was launched from a location not usually used for ballistic missile launches, on the country’s east coast.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency carried an unsourced report that a Musudan missile, which could one day be capable of reaching far-off US military bases in Asia and the Pacific, exploded in the air a few seconds after liftoff. A US official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters told The Associated Press that it appeared to be a Musudan missile but no definitive conclusion had been reached.
Despite the failure, the North has another Musudan loaded on a mobile launcher and Pyongyang will likely fire it, according to South Korean and US authorities, Yonhap reported. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter, speaking to reporters during a stop on the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, said that while the US deemed the launch to be unsuccessful, it was nonetheless another provocation by North Korea in a region that doesn’t need that kind of behavior.
The launch comes as the two Koreas trade threats amid Pyongyang’s anger over annual South Korean-US military drills that North Korea calls a rehearsal for an invasion. The North has recently fired a slew of missiles and artillery shells into the sea in an apparent protest against the drills.
The surge in belligerent rhetoric and nuclear and missile activity in the North may also be linked to leader Kim Jong Un’s preparations for a major ruling party meeting next month that analysts believe he will use to further solidify his autocratic rule. Some believe that Kim may try to use the country’s claims of recent nuclear and missile success as a way to turn domestic focus toward tackling the country’s abysmal economy.
A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to comment publicly, said the US Strategic Command systems have detected and tracked what officials assessed as a failed North Korean missile launch.
We strongly condemn North Korea’s missile test in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, which explicitly prohibit North Korea’s use of ballistic missile technology, the official said. The North American Aerospace Defense Command said the missile launched from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.