A New North Korean Missile Test Ends in Failure

May 1, 2017

By CHOE SANG-HUN New York Times


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched a missile on Saturday, even as the United States and China have been seeking to curb the North’s military ambitions. But the test ended in failure, the South Korean military said. It was the second consecutive failure in the past two weeks.

The missile took off from a location near Pukchang, northeast of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, the South Korean military said in a statement. It did not identify what type of missile was launched.

Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the United States Pacific Command, said the American military had “detected what we assess was a North Korean missile launch” from near the Pukchang airfield.

“The missile did not leave North Korean territory,” Commander Benham added. “The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.”

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The missile flew only “for several minutes” to the northeast, reaching an altitude of 44 miles, the South Korean military said. It provided no further details.

It was the North’s first test since the government of Kim Jong-un launched a ballistic missile near its submarine base on North Korea’s east coast on April 16. That launch was also a failure, with the projectile exploding just after liftoff.

In a statement, White House officials said that President Trump had been briefed on the launch. Mr. Trump said on Twitter: “North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!”

The test on Saturday came hours after Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson led a ministerial meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday. Referring to North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile programs, Mr. Tillerson warned that “failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”

The world has been watching North Korea closely in the past several weeks, amid fear that the country might attempt its sixth underground nuclear test. Satellite imagery of the nuclear test site in the country’s northeast showed that the North was ready for a test, analysts said.

showed that the North was ready for a test, analysts said.

But the country has so far refrained from conducting a nuclear test or launching one of its intercontinental ballistic missiles under development to mark major anniversaries in April. Instead, it celebrated those anniversaries with a military parade featuring new missiles and a massive live-fire drill.

It remained unclear what has caused the series of missile test failures.

Over the past three years, a covert war over the missile program has broken out between North Korea and the United States. As the North’s skills grew, President Barack Obama ordered a surge in countermeasures against the missile launches, The New York Times reported last month, including through electronic-warfare techniques.

It is unclear how successful the program has been, because it is almost impossible to tell whether any individual launch failed because of sabotage, faulty engineering or bad luck.

North Korea rattled the region in February 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 American experts say will make it easier for the country to hide its arsenal in its numerous tunnels and launch its missiles on very short notice.

Then, on March 6, the North successfully launched four ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan. The missiles, Scuds with extended ranges, were developed to target major American military bases in Japan and South Korea.

Since then, however, North Korea has appeared to run into trouble with its tests. On March 22, the country launched what South Korean defense officials said was its Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, but the test failed.

So far, all but one of the North’s nine Musudan tests since last year have been failures, with the projectiles exploding in flames during launching or shortly after liftoff.

On April 5, North Korea fired another ballistic missile off its east coast on the eve of Mr. Trump’s summit meeting with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. But the missile flew only 37 miles and was also considered a failed test.

For Mr. Kim and his government, the latest string of missile failures is a deep embarrassment because the weapons appeared to have been launched to show off his country’s readiness as a fleet of American warships, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, were exercising in Korean waters together with the South Korean Navy.

The North’s state-run media has been boasting that under Mr. Kim, the country had enough powerful missiles to turn the Carl Vinson into a “giant pile of scrap metal” and “bury it in the sea.”

Correction: April 28, 2017
A previous version of the article misidentified the reporter. The article was written by Choe Sang-Hun, not David E. Sanger.