North Korea’s latest launch was a big, new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), state media reported on Friday, in a test leader Kim Jong Un said was designed to demonstrate the might of its nuclear force and deter any US military moves.
The Thursday launch was the first full ICBM test by nuclear-armed North Korea since 2017. Flight data indicated the missile flew higher and longer than any of North Korea’s previous tests before crashing into the sea west of Japan.
Called the Hwasong-17, the ICBM would be the largest liquid-fuelled missile ever launched by any country from a road-mobile launcher, analysts say.
Its range and size also suggest North Korea plans to tip it with multiple warheads that could hit several targets or with decoys to confuse defenders, according to analysts.
Kim ordered the test because of the “daily-escalating military tension in and around the Korean peninsula” and the “inevitability of the long-standing confrontation with the U.S. imperialists accompanied by the danger of a nuclear war”, the KCNA state news agency reported.
“The strategic forces … are fully ready to thoroughly curb and contain any dangerous military attempts of the U.S. imperialists,” Kim said while overseeing the launch, according to KCNA.
North Korea’s return to testing weapons that are believed to be capable of striking the United States poses a direct challenge to President Joe Biden as he responds to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It also raises the prospect of a new crisis following the election of a new, conservative South Korean administration that has pledged a more muscular military strategy towards North Korea.
South Korea’s conservative president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, said North Korea had nothing to gain from provocation.
In a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping after the launch, Yoon called for close coordination on North Korea’s complete denuclearisation, his office said. Xi said China and South Korea should bolster mutual political trust, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.
China, North Korea’s sole major ally and neighbour, urged restraint on “all sides” after the test.
South Korea staged an exercise with F-35 fighter jets on Friday. The launch also drew condemnation from the United States and Japan.
Kim said the test would help convince the world of the modern features of his country’s strategic forces.
“Any forces should be made to be well aware of the fact that they will have to pay a very dear price before daring to attempt to infringe upon the security of our country,” he said.
A spokesperson for the White House, asked about Kim’s remarks, said it had nothing to add to its earlier comments on the launch.
Responding to the launch, which was in violation of U.N. sanctions, through the Security Council will be far more difficult now than after North Korea’s last such test in 2017.
Security Council members are at odds over the Ukraine war making the kind of sanctions that it imposed on North Korea at that time a far more complicated process.
The Security Council will meet later on Friday to discuss the launch. On Thursday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged North Korea “to desist from taking any further counter-productive actions”.
The U.S. State Department announced sanctions on Thursday on two Russian companies, a Russian and a North Korean individual, and North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Science Foreign Affairs Bureau for transferring sensitive items to North Korea’s missile programme.
North Korean state media photographs showed a massive missile, painted black with a white nosecone, rising on a column of flame from a launch vehicle.
The Hwasong-17 flew for 1,090 km (680 miles) to a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 km (3,905 miles) and hit a target in the sea, KCNA reported. Those numbers are similar to data reported by Japan and South Korea.
NK Pro, a Seoul-based website that monitors North Korea, said discrepancies in the imagery and video released by state media suggested that it may have been shot on different dates, raising the possibility that North Korea was hiding details about the missile launch.
North Korea never acknowledged what South Korea said was a failed missile launch from the same airport last week, and on Thursday the South’s Yonhap news agency cited unnamed officials who said that they were examining whether the latest successful test may in fact have been a Hwasong-15 ICBM, which was test fired in November 2017.
KCNA called Thursday’s successful test a “striking demonstration of great military muscle,” while Kim said it was a “miraculous” and “priceless” victory for the Korean people.
Later, the state broadcaster released a video of the launch featuring Kim in a leather jacket and sunglasses.
North Korea first showed off the Hwasong-17 at a military parade in October 2020. Analysts said at the time it appeared considerably larger than the Hwasong-15.
It was displayed a second time at a defence exhibition in October 2021.
Officials in Seoul and Washington previously said launches on Feb. 27 and March 5 involved parts of the Hwasong-17 ICBM system, likely in preparation for a full test.