The Cable

North Korean Missile Test Shows U.S. Bases Could Soon Be In Range

After a series of ballistic missile tests this year, North Korea uncorks what may prove to be their most successful demonstration to date.

This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 26, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) attending the combined fire demonstration of the services of the Korean People's Army in celebration of its 85th founding anniversary at the airport of eastern front. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT   ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP.  /         (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 26, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) attending the combined fire demonstration of the services of the Korean People's Army in celebration of its 85th founding anniversary at the airport of eastern front. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korea launched what appears to be a new type of ballistic missile on Sunday, extending the range and flight time over other recent tests, a development that could potentially put U.S. bases in Asia within Pyongyang’s range.

The launch of the as yet unidentified missile could signal advances over known North Korean capabilities, adding to tensions in the region as the Trump administration seeks to prevent Pyongyang from developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The test also presents an early challenge to South Korea’s new president, who was elected this month after vowing to return to conciliatory policies toward Pyongyang.

The test may represent “a level of performance never before seen from a North Korean missile,” said John Schilling, an engineer and analyst with 38 North, a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins, adding that the launch “could be a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.”

The missile flew for about 30 minutes, during which it traveled about 620 miles and reached a height of 1,200 miles, according to early assessments.

The U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement that the flight “was not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile,” but analysts said that if the missile were to be fired on a standard trajectory it could travel about 2,800 miles, potentially endangering the U.S. air base in Guam.

It was the 10th ballistic missile test for Pyongyang so far this year, one more than the nine tested at this point in 2016.

The White House has applied more pressure on Beijing in recent weeks to take a harder stand with the regime of Kim Jong Un to curb his ballistic missile and nuclear programs. In a statement Saturday night, the White House brought Russia into the discussion, noting that the missile splashed down closer to Russia than Japan, adding that “the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two leaders said in a statement they had discussed the security situation on the Korean peninsula and had “concerns,” but did not offer specifics.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said that its missile defense systems tracked the North Korean missile for 23 minutes before it fell about 310 miles from the Russian coast.

Given its altitude, “the range is considerably longer than the estimated range of the Musudan missile, which showed a range of about 3,000 km [1,864 miles] in a test last year,” wrote David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists in a blog post on Sunday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who only took office on Wednesday after his predecessor was impeached, held his first National Security Council in response to the launch, which he called a “clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

 

 

Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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