SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into its eastern waters on Sunday, its first weapons test in a month and two days after it said it had conducted a key test to build a more maneuverable An aggressive, powerful intercontinental ballistic missile designed to strike the continental United States.
The South Korean military detected two North Korean ballistic missiles fired from the Dongchang-ri area in its northwest. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missiles flew over South Korea and headed toward the eastern sea.
It said the missile launches were spaced about 50 minutes apart, but did not provide further details, such as the exact type of weapon North Korea fired and how far it flew. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the South Korean military has stepped up its surveillance posture and maintained a state of combat readiness in close coordination with the United States.
Japanese officials also said they detected two missiles fired by North Korea. Its Coast Guard said the North Korean missile landed in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan. Japanese Coast Guard officials said both missiles landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The Tongchangri region is home to North Korea’s Sohae satellite launch site, where the country has launched long-range rockets carrying satellites over the past few years in what the United Nations calls a disguised test of intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
On Thursday, at the Sohae facility, North Korea also conducted a test of what it called a “high-thrust solid-fuel engine” for a new strategic weapon, a development experts say could allow it to have a more maneuverable, tougher engine. Detection of ICBM arsenals that can reach the continental United States.
It was not immediately clear whether Sunday’s launch took place from the West Sea facility.
Sunday’s launch was North Korea’s first public weapons test since last month it launched the longest-range liquid-fueled Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile it is developing, capable of reaching the entire continental United States. Earlier this year, North Korea tested various other missiles at a record pace, despite pandemic-related economic difficulties and U.S.-led pressure to curb its nuclear program.
North Korea has defended its weapons test as a self-defense measure in response to expanded U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which it views as an invasion exercise.But some experts say North Korea could use its rival’s military training as an excuse to expand its arsenal and increase its leverage in future negotiations with the United States
The weapons North Korea said could be built with the recently tested engine could be solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles, one of a list of high-tech weapons systems that leader Kim Jong-un vowed to acquire earlier at a key meeting of his ruling Workers’ Party last year. Other weapons systems Kim has promised to build include multiple warhead missiles, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and spy satellites.
The fuel for the solid-propellant rocket is already contained inside, which helps reduce launch preparation time, improves the weapon’s maneuverability, and makes it harder for outsiders to perceive what’s happening before launch. North Korea already has a growing fleet of short-range solid-fuel ballistic missiles targeting key locations in South Korea, including U.S. bases there.
The exact status of North Korea’s nuclear strike capability remains classified because all of its ICBM tests in recent years have been conducted at steep angles to avoid neighbors.
Some experts speculate that, given the number of years North Korea has spent on its nuclear program, it already has effective nuclear-tipped missiles that could hit the entire United States. But others say the country is years away from acquiring such weapons and say it has not publicly demonstrated it has the technology to protect warheads from the harsh conditions of re-entry.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.