Seoul, South Korea
According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, North Korea on Wednesday tested an estimated intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in one of three missile tests.
The tests come during US President Joe Biden’s first visit to Asia.
South Korea said the estimated ICBM was fired at 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday, with a range of about 360 kilometers (223 miles) and an altitude of about 540 kilometers (335 miles).
At about 6:37 a.m., North fired a second ballistic missile – not believed to be ICBM – that appeared to have disappeared from South Korean tracking at an altitude of 20 kilometers (12 miles), South Korea said.
The third missile, a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), flew about 760 kilometers (472 miles) and had an altitude of 60 kilometers (37 miles), South Korea’s JCS added.
Intelligence agencies in South Korea and the United States are analyzing the tests for more details, JCS said.
Missile expert Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-Proliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said Wednesday’s test was unlikely to be a full-fledged ICBM because the range of such missiles was too small.
Lewis said Wednesday’s test was similar to previous tests that the US claimed were related to the development of a new ICBM.
The Pentagon said in March that the two North Korean ballistic missile tests, conducted on February 26 and March 4, were not intended to demonstrate ICBM range or capability, but “there was a possibility to evaluate the new system before conducting a full-scale test in the future, presumably in the guise of a space launch.” ”
Japan has also reportedly fired at least two missiles from North Korea, one of which is flying at an “irregular trajectory” about 750 kilometers (466 miles) away, said Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.
Kishi said the missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In response to North Korea’s latest test, South Korea and the United States have each fired one missile at sea off the Korean Peninsula, JCS said. A U.S. military statement confirmed the launch.
The JCS added, “This proves that our military has the capability and preparedness to hit the source of the provocation accurately with our irresistible strength.”
The South Korean Air Force also conducted an “elephant walk” on Wednesday, taxiing about 30 F-15K armed fighter jets on the runway as a show of strength, JCS said.
Last week, a U.S. official warned that North Korea appeared to be preparing for an ICBM test during a trip to Biden, after satellite images revealed activity at a launch site near the capital, Pyongyang.
Biden met with South Korea’s new president, Eun Sook-eol, over the weekend, where the two leaders said they would begin exploring the expansion of joint military exercises between their countries.
Asked if he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Biden said it would “depend on whether he is sincere or not.”
To date, Biden’s strategy has not yet led to a formal meeting with North Korea since the administration ended its review of U.S. policy toward the monastic state, a senior administration official said.
Eun, meanwhile, said South Korea and its allies were ready for any provocative action against North Korea.
Last month, Kim pledged to “strengthen and develop” its nuclear power at the “highest possible speed”.
The latest launches mark the 16th time that North Korea has tested its missiles this year, with the United States believing a failed ICBM test on May 4 that exploded shortly after launch.
But North Korea is thought to have tested an ICBM in late March.
According to the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the missile flew at an altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) and a distance of 1,080 kilometers (671 miles) with a flight time of 71 minutes before exploding in the waters off the west coast of Japan.
U.S. military and intelligence agencies estimate that Pyongyang could be ready for its first underground nuclear test in about five years.