North Korea fired a suspected intermediate-range ballistic missile toward the sea on Sunday, South Korea’s military said, two months after the North claimed to have tested engines for a new harder-to-detect missile capable of striking distant U.S. targets in the region.
The launch was the North’s first this year. Experts say North Korea could ramp up its provocative missile tests as a way to influence the results of South Korea’s parliamentary elections in April and the U.S. presidential election in November.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it detected the launch of a ballistic missile of an intermediate-range class from the North’s capital region on Sunday afternoon. It said the missile flew toward the North’s eastern waters.
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are analyzing further details of the launch as the South’s military maintains readiness, according to the statement.
Japan’s Defense Ministry also said it spotted the North’s possible ballistic missile. The Japanese coast guard, quoting the Defense Ministry, said the suspected missile was believed to have landed in the ocean.
In mid-November, North Korea’s state media said it had successfully tested solid-fuel engines for a new intermediate-range ballistic missile that observers say is likely designed to hit U.S. military bases in Okinawa, Japan and the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
Built-in solid propellants make missile launches harder for outsiders to detect than liquid-fueled missiles, which must be fueled before launch and cannot last long. North Korea has a growing arsenal of solid-fuel short-range missiles targeting South Korea, but its existing intermediate-range missiles, including the Hwasong-12, are powered by liquid-fuel engines.
The last time North Korea performed a public missile launch was Dec. 18, when it test-fired its Hwasong-18 solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile, the North’s most advanced weapon. The Hwasong-18 is The North’s only known solid-fuel ICBM and it’s designed to strike the mainland U.S.