SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a pair of ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Sunday, its first weapons test in a month and two days after claiming to conduct a key test needed to build a more mobile, powerful intercontinental ballistic missile designed to strike the American continent.
The South Korean military detected the launch of two North Korean ballistic missiles from its northwest region of Tongchangri. The missiles flew over the country toward its eastern waters, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
He said the missiles were fired about 50 minutes apart, but gave no further details, such as precisely the type of weapons North Korea fired and the distance traveled. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the South Korean military has strengthened its surveillance posture and remains ready in close coordination with the United States.
Japanese officials also said they spotted the two missile launches from North Korea. Its coastguard said missiles fired from North Korea fell in waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. Japanese Coast Guard officials said the two missiles landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The Tongchangri region is home to North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, where the country has in recent years launched long-range rockets carrying satellites in what the UN has called a disguised test of ICBM technology.
On Thursday at the Sohae facility, North Korea also carried out what it called testing a “high-thrust solid-fuel engine” for a new strategic weapon, a development that experts say could allow it to have a more mobile and harder engine. to detect an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the American continent.
It was not immediately clear if Sunday’s launches had taken place since the Sohae facility.
Sunday’s launch is the North’s first public weapons test since the country launched its longer-range developmental liquid-fueled ICBM Hwasong-17 last month, capable of reaching all of the United States. Earlier this year, North Korea tested a variety of other missiles at a record pace, despite pandemic-related economic difficulties and pressure from the United States to curb its nuclear program.
North Korea has defended its weapons tests as self-defense measures to deal with extensive military exercises between the United States and South Korea that it sees as a rehearsal for an invasion. But some experts say North Korea likely used its rivals’ military training as an excuse to expand its arsenal of weapons and increase its influence in future negotiations with the United States.
The weapon North Korea has said it could build with the recently tested engine likely refers to a solid-fuel ICBM, which is part of a list of high-tech weapon systems that leader Kim Jong One promised to procure at a major conference of the ruling Workers’ Party. Last year. Other weapon systems Kim has promised to manufacture include a multi-warhead missile, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and spy satellites.
Solid-propellant rocket fuel is already loaded inside, which helps to shorten launch preparation times, increase the weapon’s mobility and make it harder for outsiders to detect what’s going on. before take off. North Korea already has a growing arsenal of short-range, solid-fueled ballistic missiles targeting key locations in South Korea, including US military bases there.
The exact status of North Korea’s nuclear attack capability remains secret, as all of its intercontinental ballistic missile tests in recent years have been conducted at a steep angle to avoid neighboring countries.
Some experts speculate that North Korea already has functioning nuclear-tipped missiles that can strike the whole of the United States, given the number of years it has devoted to its nuclear program. But others say the country is still years away from acquiring such weapons, saying it has yet to publicly prove it has technology to protect the warheads from the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry. .
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.