North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters this morning.
The missile tests were in apparent response to the United States redeploying an aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula after Pyongyang’s previous launch of a nuclear-capable missile over Japan.
The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region and landed between the Korean peninsula and Japan, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff (JCS) said in a statement. It was North Korea’s sixth round of weapons tests in less than two weeks and came as the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan returned to waters east of South Korea in what South Korea’s military called an endeavour to demonstrate the allies’ “firm will” to counter continued northern provocations and threats.
Yesterday an attempt by South Korean armed forces to project a defiant response to Kim Jong-un’s latest escalations ended in a humiliating apology after a missile that was launched exploded in a fireball, prompting fears that war had broken out.
The Hyunmoo-2C short-range ballistic missile was part of the response by Korean and American forces to the test-firing by the North of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, which flew high above Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea had sent two short-range ballistic missiles toward its east coast in the direction of Japan amid rising tensions.
The South Korean missile crashed into a golf course, according to reports, 700 yards from civilian homes. No injuries were reported but the missile created a huge orange explosion on Tuesday night that caused panic in the nearby city of Gangneung in the east of the country.
“All of a sudden I heard a roar and it made me think something has gone wrong,” one resident, Kim Hee-soo, told Reuters. “So I looked at the area where they’ve fired Hyunmoo missiles before and there was flame and smoke and it was a total mess.
“I’ve never experienced such an accident in my years having been born and raised here. It makes me very nervous and I hope that they can let us know whenever they conduct training.”
The JCS, a group of leaders from each branch of South Korea’s armed services, said that the missile had been carrying a warhead but that it was not armed, and that the explosion was caused by the burning of propellant fuel. It was eight hours before an official statement was released owning up to the “abnormal flight path” of the missile. A military official later apologised for the incident and said that an investigation was under way. South Korea and the US also fired other missiles, which accurately hit targets in the sea.
South Korea, Japan and the US condemned the launch on Tuesday morning of the North’s Hwasong-12 missile, which passed over the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan and travelled 2,850 miles before falling into the Pacific Ocean, far beyond Japan’s maritime territory.
This brought to more than 40 the number of individual rockets of different kinds test-fired by Pyongyang this year, and underlines the powerlessness of the outside world to inhibit the North’s weapons development.
Tension between the United Nations security council’s western members and North Korea’s supporters, Russia and China, means that no significant action, or even outspoken condemnation, is likely.
America has sent the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group back to Korean waters less than two weeks after it took part in exercises there. The JCS said: “The re-dispatch of the carrier strike group to the Korean peninsula is highly unusual and shows the resolute will of the South Korea-US alliance to strengthen the alliance’s readiness posture against North Korea’s consecutive provocations and to respond decisively to any kind of provocation and threat from North Korea.”