SEOUL — North Korea tested an unknown projectile on Wednesday, though the launch failed, the South Korean military said, a stumble Pyongyang has largely avoided in recent years.
The attempted launch took place at 9:30 a.m. local time from the Sunan region on the outskirts of Pyongyang, according to the South Korean military. The projectile appears to have exploded during a start-up phase just after taking off, at an altitude of around 20 km or less, a South Korean military official said. The Japanese Ministry of Defense said it was aware of the launch but unable to confirm the flight of a ballistic missile.
The weapon type was not immediately shared.
Sunan is the same location where Kim Jong Un’s regime recently carried out a pair of launches it said were tests of equipment needed for a military reconnaissance satellite under development. Mr. Kim recently said the country would pursue more satellite launches. North Korea had also chosen Sunan, where the country’s main international airport is located, as the January 30 launch site for an intermediate-range missile, the country’s most powerful test in years.
But the United States, South Korea and Japan view the activity differently, seeing them as the first tests of components for North Korea’s new intercontinental ballistic missile system.
Pyongyang has brushed aside diplomatic ties with Washington and Seoul, showing disinterest in nuclear talks that could remove sanctions that have hit the recalcitrant nation’s economy. The United States and North Korea have not held formal nuclear talks in more than two years.
Mr. Kim, promising to bolster the country’s war deterrent, has been inward-looking throughout the pandemic. The weapons tests, when they go as planned, offer the 38-year-old dictator a rare achievement to brag about.
Pyongyang also faces little risk of punishment for missile activity. Key allies in Moscow and Beijing do not currently appear to favor backing the Biden administration’s efforts to add additional sanctions to the Kim regime.
North Korea has conducted dozens of shorter-range weapon tests in recent years, nearly all of them without incident.
Unsuccessful launches were more common the past decade as Pyongyang pushed its long-range missile program to new frontiers. In April 2017, the Kim regime suffered a series of failed launches of an intermediate-range ballistic missile dubbed Hwasong-12. He finally succeeded the following month.
North Korea has unveiled new weapons in recent years, including missiles fired from a train and self-proclaimed hypersonic technology. But recent advances have focused on refining or modifying existing weapons that are less likely to malfunction.
Wednesday’s launch is North Korea’s 10th weapons test of the year. Pyongyang has signaled it may consider returning to major provocations, such as an ICBM launch or a nuclear test. In recent days, the country has begun repairing its main nuclear test site, the Seoul military said.
Mr Kim drew attention to the country’s military spy satellite attempts. He visited North Korea’s main satellite launch facility, ordering it to be upgraded and upgraded for large rockets. Addressing the country’s aerospace officials, Mr Kim said the satellites would provide “real-time information” on the military actions of the “aggression troops” of the United States and its allies, reports said. state media.
North Korea, which currently has no space surveillance capability, has carried out two successful satellite launches in the past decade, most recently in 2016. But the Kim regime has struggled with its launch pursuits space, several previous attempts having failed.
The underlying technology of a military satellite and a long-range missile overlap, weapons experts say. The Kim regime has previously been condemned for carrying out ballistic missile tests under the guise of a space launch which Pyongyang said was for scientific purposes.
—Alastair Gale in Tokyo contributed to this article.
Write to Timothy W. Martin at [email protected]
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