North Korea Test-Fires Intermediate-Range Missiles

The South Korean military said North Korea test-fired a possible intermediate ballistic missile off its eastern coast last Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

According to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the missile was launched from an area near Pyongyang and flew approximately 600 kilometers before hitting the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

Lee Sung Joon, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs said the launch was likely a follow-up to North Korea’s March test of a solid-fuel engine that is designed for the intermediate-range hypersonic missile currently in development. Such a weapon could reach the US military base in Guam and beyond, according to experts.

The Japanese Defense Ministry said the missile traveled 650 kilometers and reached a maximum altitude of 100 kilometers before hitting the Sea of Japan outside of its exclusive economic zone.

Within hours of the launch, South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced that it conducted a combined aerial exercise with Japan and the United States over the waters near Jeju Island in southern Japan. The exercise involved at least one B-52 nuclear-capable bomber.

According to the Defense Ministry, the training involved fighter jets from all three countries and was intended to enhance their collective response capabilities against possible nuclear or missile threats from North Korea.

The April 1 missile test was Pyongyang’s first launch since March 18 when leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a live-fire drill of nuclear-capable rocket launchers designed to target Seoul.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters last week that while no damage was reported from the missile launch, North Korea’s frequent tests “threaten the peace and safety” of the Indo-Pacific region as well as “the international security.”

In recent years, Kim Jong Un has used the war in Ukraine as cover to accelerate North Korea’s testing program. In response, the US and South Korea have expanded combined training exercises and trilateral drills with Japan to sharpen deterrence strategies.