North Korea fired a ballistic missile from its capital Pyongyang that flew over Japan before plunging into the northern Pacific Ocean, officials said Tuesday, an aggressive test-flight over the territory of a close U.S. ally that sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile travelled around 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) and reached a maximum height of 550 kilometers (341 miles) as it flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The launch, which appears to be the first to cross over Japan since 2009, will rattle a region worried that each new missile test puts the North a step closer toward its goal of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can reliably target the United States. It appeared to be the North’s longest-ever missile test, but South Korean officials couldn’t immediately confirm.
North Korean missile launches have been happening at an unusually fast pace this year, and some analysts believe the North could have viable long-range nuclear missiles before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term in early 2021.
The South Korean military said it is analyzing the launch with the United States and has strengthened its monitoring and preparation in case of further actions from North Korea. Analysts speculate the North may have tested a new intermediate-range missile that Pyongyang recently threatened to fire toward the U.S. territory of Guam, which hosts a major military base. This missile landed nowhere near Guam, which is about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) south of Tokyo, but the length of Tuesday’s launch may have been designed for the North to show it could follow through on its threat. Seoul says the missile was launched from Sunan, which is where Pyongyang’s international airport is, opening the possibility that North Korea launched a road-mobile missile from an airport runway.
The launch was North Korea’s 13th ballistic missile launch this year, said Roh Jae-cheon, spokesman of Seoul’s JCS.