PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea test-fired on Friday what the US believes was its second intercontinental ballistic missile, which flew longer and higher than its first ICBM launched earlier this month, officials said.
“We assess that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, as had been expected,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in Washington.
The missile was launched on very high trajectory, which limited the distance it traveled, and landed west of Japan’s island of Hokkaido.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it a “serious and real threat” to the country’s security. North Korea’s development of ICBM technology is a major step toward its goal of developing nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching as far as the United States.
Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the missile, launched late Friday night, flew for about 45 minutes — about five minutes longer than the ICBM North Korea test-fired on July 4. He said Japan has lodged a strong protest with North Korea.
“North Korea’s repeated provocative acts absolutely cannot be accepted,” he said.
Prime Minister Abe said Japan would cooperate closely with the US, South Korea and other nations to further step up pressure on North Korea to halt its missile programs.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile reached an estimated height of 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) before landing at sea about 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) away. It was apparently more advanced than the ICBM North Korea previously launched, it said.
The “Hwasong 14” ICBM test-fired earlier this month was also launched at a very steep angle, a technique called lofting, and reached a height of more than 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) before splashing down in the ocean 930 kilometers (580 miles) away. Analysts said that missile could be capable of reaching most of Alaska or possibly Hawaii if fired in an attacking trajectory.
Jeffrey Lewis, a missile and nonproliferation expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said in tweet that early data from Friday’s test suggest a missile with a range of about 10,000 kilometers (6,250 miles) that would be capable of reaching targets deep into the United States mainland.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile was launched from North Korea’s northern Jagang province near the border with China. President Moon Jae-in was presiding over an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, Moon’s office said.
There was no immediate confirmation of the launch by North Korea. The day’s broadcast on state-run television had already ended when the news broke at around midnight Pyongyang time.
July 27 is a major national holiday in North Korea called Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War Day, marking the day when the armistice was signed ending the 1950-53 Korean War. That armistice is yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula technically in a state of war.
North Korea generally waits hours or sometimes a day or more before announcing launches, often with a raft of photos in the ruling party newspaper or on the television news. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is usually shown at the site to observe and supervise major launches.
Late night launches are rare. North Korea usually conducts its missile and underground nuclear tests in the morning. It’s likely the North launched the missile at night and from the remote province of Jagang to demonstrate its operational versatility. To have a real deterrent, it’s important for North Korea to prove it can launch whenever and wherever it chooses, making it harder for foreign military observers trying to detect their activities ahead of time.