A North Korean missile launch likely failed on Tuesday, according to South Korea’s military. This appears to be the latest in a string of high-profile failures that somewhat tempers recent worries that Pyongyang is pushing quickly toward its goal of a long-range nuclear-tipped missile that can reach America’s mainland.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified government source, said the missile exploded at a mobile launch pad as soon as a launch button was pressed. The report, if confirmed, suggests the missile may have even failed to lift off. Yonhap did not say how its source obtained the information.
Seoul defense officials said they could not immediately confirm the report.
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in statement that the North attempted to launch an unidentified missile early in the morning from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan, but that it likely failed. Later Tuesday JCS officials said they were analyzing what happened but released no other details.
Yonhap maintains that the missile was a powerful mid-range Musudan. If true, that would make it the fourth failed attempt by the North to conduct a successful test launch of the new missile, which could potentially reach far-away U.S. military bases in Asia and the Pacific.
Musudan missiles have a potential range of about 2,180 miles, which would indeed put U.S. military bases in Guam within their striking distance. South Korea believes the North does not have a functional long-range missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, but says that the North is working on that technology.
In April, North Korea attempted unsuccessfully to launch three suspected powerful mid-range Musudan missiles. According to South Korean defense officials all the missiles exploded in mid-air or crashed.
Before April’s presumed launches, North Korea had never flight-tested a Musudan missile, although one was displayed during a military parade in 2010 in Pyongyang.
Despite the recent failures, there have been growing worries about North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities this year, which include a nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February that outsiders regarded as a test of banned long-range missile technology.
The most recent launch follows Seoul’s rejection of recent Pyongyang overtures to talk, part of what some analysts see as an attempt by the North to win concessions from its rivals.
South Korean officials believe the missile launches are part of an order from the country’s leader Kim Jong Un in March to conduct tests of a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. That order is thought to be one facet of Pyongyang’s response to the annual South Korea-U.S. military drills, exercises it considers an invasion rehearsal.