After several missteps over recent months, North Korea has successfully test-fired a ballistic missile early Sunday morning, May 14, 2017, at 5:27 a.m. local time (4:27 p.m. Saturday, EST).
The exact type of missile is not known at press time, but according to the South Korean news agency, Yonhap, the projectile was consistent with a ballistic missile. This report was confirmed by three separate U.S. officials to NBC News. Defense analysts and officials are still reviewing the launch and splashdown, but are calling the launch a success.
The missile flew for approximately 30 minutes before landing in the Sea of Japan. The launch originated near Kusong, a city north of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
The type of missile is not believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), but rather one of the intermediate-ranged ballistic missile types that North Korea has been pursuing. These medium-ranged missiles would have a reach of between 1,500 and 4,000 kilometers, giving them the ability to strike nearly anywhere in the Southeastern Asiatic region.
This is the eighth ballistic missile test this year, continuing the trend of North Korea under Kim Jong-un as he pursues pre-emptive launch capabilities for a nuclear capable ICBM.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga spoke on behalf of his country, saying that Japan strongly protests the missile launch.
North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Inventory
North Korea’s military programs are shrouded in secrecy and many public displays are filled with props and dummy prototypes prepared just for propaganda. This makes determining the exact ballistic capabilities of the country difficult. However, according to MissileThreat, a project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), North Korea has six ballistic missiles currently operational with ranges from 150km to over 10,000km, and another three in development.
The missiles currently in North Korea’s ballistic missile inventory start with the KN-02, a short range ballistic missile (SRBM) that has a minimal range of about 150km. This missile would be able to reach Seoul, the capital of South Korea, but is unable to reach the southern areas of South Korea.
Three other SRBMs that make up the mainstay of North Korea’s ballistic missiles are the Hwasong-5, Hwasong-6, and the Hwasong-7. These missiles have ranges of 300, 500, and 1,000 kilometers respectively, making them able to target all of South Korea and western portions of Japan, including U.S. military bases in Okinawa.
The No-Dong is a medium ranged ballistic missile (MRBM) with a range of 1,500 kilometers. This gives North Korea the ability to strike anywhere in Japan as well as most of the eastern coast of China.
The missile that the United States and the world are most concerned about is the Taepodong-2, an ICBM with the range to strike nearly anywhere in the central and western United States as well as all of Europe. While the ballistic missile version of this rocket has not been successfully launched, the non-weaponized version has been used twice. These launches put two different versions of the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 satellites into orbit. These launches are considered ballistic missile tests, as the technology for both is the same.
The three missiles in development are the BM-25 Musudan IRBM, the KN-08, and KN-14 ICBM. The Musudan would be able to reach as far south as the Philippines and as far west as Nepal and the eastern edges of India. The KN-08 and KN-14 would be able to target the western half of Washington State in the United States, most of Australia, and the majority of Eastern Europe.
The numbers of missiles that North Korea has in its arsenal is currently unknown as well. Current analysis shows that they may only have a handful of their full fledged ICBM, the Taepodong-2. However, they are estimated to have between 1oo to 300 of the other types of missiles.
The missile launch comes despite President Donald Trump announcing earlier that he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-un, and just after the new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, was sworn in.
[Featured Image by 2nd Lt. William Collette/U.S. Air Force via AP Images]