North Korea launched a medium-range ballistic missile Sunday afternoon, a senior Trump administration official has confirmed.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectile was fired from an area about 50 miles northeast of Pyongyang.
“We are aware that North Korea launched an MRBM [medium-range ballistic missile],” the U.S. official said in a statement. “This system, last tested in February, has a shorter range than the missiles launched in North Korea’s three most recent tests.”
Prior to the U.S. official’s statement, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, “North Korea launched an unidentifiable projectile to the East Sea from Bukchang area in South Pyongyang Province at 16:49 today.” (The East Sea is also referred to as the Sea of Japan.)
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff statement continued, “The projectile flew 500 km [310 miles] and ROK and U.S. are now analyzing its detailed [sic]. ROK military is closely monitoring North Korean provocative trends and maintaining highest military readiness.”
Commander David Benham, a U.S. Pacific Command spokesman, also addressed the missile launch, saying in a statement, “U.S. Pacific Command detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 09:59 p.m. Hawaii time May 20. The launch of a medium range ballistic missile occurred near Pukchang. The missile was tracked until it landed in the Sea of Japan.”
The statement continued, “We are working with our Interagency partners on a more detailed assessment. We continue to monitor North Korea’s actions closely. U.S. Pacific Command stands behind our ironclad commitment to the security of our allies in the Republic of Korea and Japan. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) assessed that the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.”
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the missile launch, saying in a statement, “The repeated provocation of North Korea is a reckless and irresponsible act that puts cold water on the expectations and aspirations of the Korean government and the international community for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and peace settlement, and the government strongly condemns this provocation.”
The ministry continued, “The government recently announced a firm commitment to pursue the root resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue through all means including sanctions and dialogue, through dispatching special envoys to major countries such as the US, China, Japan and Russia. While the government is open to possibility of dialogue with North Korea, it will continue to stand firmly in response to provocations, saying that North Korea should immediately stop any provocations that violated UN Security Council resolutions.”
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo Sunday, “This launch presented a grave problem from the perspective of ensuring safety of aircraft and vessels. It was also a clear violation of the United Nations’ Security Council resolution. Japan cannot accept North Korea’s repeated provocation and we have lodged a strong protest against North Korea.”
Suga added, “At this point, it is speculated that the area where it fell was not within Japan’s Economic Exclusive Zone. There has been so far no report of damage to aircraft or vessels that were passing near the point [where the missile was believed to have fallen.]”
“This launch presented a grave problem from the perspective of ensuring safety of aircraft and vessels. It was also a clear violation of the United Nations’ Security Council resolution. Japan cannot accept North Korea’s repeated provocation and we have lodged a strong protest against North Korea.”
The missile launched Sunday was last tested in February. Called the KN-15, the new solid-fueled missile traveled 310 miles into the Sea of Japan. It was a significant launch, not because of the distance traveled but because of the solid fuel missile technology used in the launch.
Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the February launch marked a significant advancement for North Korea because it was its first successful solid-fueled missile fired from a mobile launcher.
North Korea last weekend launched a midrange missile that landed in the Sea of Japan after being launched from western North Korea. The Russian Ministry of Defense said the missile flew for about 23 minutes before crashing into the sea around 500 km (310 miles) from Russia into the center of the Sea of Japan.