North Korea launches missile, but test appears to fail

Appeared 'to have exploded within seconds of launch'
In a photo released by the North Korean government on April 9, 2016, Kim Jong-un visits a missile test center.
In a photo released by the North Korean government on April 9, 2016, Kim Jong-un visits a missile test center.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired a missile off its east coast Wednesday, but the test apparently failed, South Korean and U.S. military officials said.

North Korea launched the missile from near an air base in Wonsan, a port city, the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a brief statement.

“We believe the test was a failure,” the ministry added, providing no further details, such as the type of missile launched.

Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command, said in a statement that the missile appeared “to have exploded within seconds of launch.”

The United States has been conducting a covert cyberwarfare program aimed at sabotaging North Korean missile tests in their opening seconds. But it was impossible to determine whether that program was a factor in the apparent launch failure Wednesday.

The United States is exploring a new approach on how to end North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, traveled to Asia last week, urging the Chinese, South Korean and Japanese authorities to step up pressure on North Korea to give up its weapons programs.

In his New Year’s Day speech, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, said his country was in the “final stage” of preparing for its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. North Korea has become one of the Trump administration’s most pressing national security issues, as it was for the last years of the Obama administration.

North Korea has had a spotty record in test-launching its intermediate-range ballistic missile known as the Musudan in recent months. A Musudan test in October ended in failure.

But Pyongyang rattled the region last month by successfully launching a new intermediate-range ballistic missile that it said could carry a nuclear payload. That missile, the Pukguksong-2, uses a solid-fuel technology that U.S. experts say will make it easier for the country to hide its arsenal in its numerous tunnels and launch its missiles on short notice.

Then, on March 6, the North launched four ballistic missiles toward Japan, which fell within 220 miles of Japan’s shoreline.

South Korean defense officials later said the projectiles were Scud-ER ballistic missiles with a 620-mile range. By firing the four missiles simultaneously, North Korea tried to flaunt an ability to launch multiple missiles at U.S. bases in Japan and at U.S. aircraft carriers around the Korean Peninsula, they said. The ability to launch a barrage of missiles increases the chances of breaching anti-missile defenses.

On Sunday, North Korea claimed that it had conducted a successful ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust missile engine, which Kim called “a great event of historic significance.”

Using the characteristic bombast of such announcements, he said that “the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries.”

South Korea later acknowledged that North Korea was making “meaningful progress” in trying to build more powerful rockets and missiles.

In Seoul, the South Korean capital, on Friday, Tillerson said that two decades of international efforts to end the North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs had failed. He warned that all options should be on the table to stop them, including pre-emptive military action.

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