N. Korea fires 2 ballistic missiles; 1 launch possibly fails

July 1, 2024

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles in a northeastern direction Monday, South Korea’s military said, with one of the launches possibly failing and the missile falling inland within the country.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said one short-range ballistic missile was launched from the Jangyon area in South Hwanghae Province at about 5:05 a.m. and flew about 600 kilometers, landing in waters off the North’s northeastern city of Chongjin.

Another ballistic missile was launched from the same area at around 5:15 a.m. and flew only about 120 kilometers, before its trail disappeared from radar.

Col. Lee Sung-jun, spokesperson of the JCS, told a briefing the second missile may have flown abnormally during the early stage of its flight and that if it exploded in midair, its debris could have fallen inland.

“We are conducting a comprehensive analysis on various possibilities,” Lee said, when asked if the missile had exploded or fallen inland. He declined to comment on where it may have come down.

“It is difficult to know the missile’s exact point of impact, but there is a possibility that it went toward Pyongyang,” a JCS official said.

The eastern part of Pyongyang is located about 120 kilometers northeast of the southwestern county of Jangyon.

The North last launched two short-range ballistic missiles from the Jangyon area in March last year. The missiles, known as the Hwasong-11, flew about 610 kilometers to strike a target in waters off Chongjin, according to the North’s state media.

The military is considering the possibility the latest launch involved the Hwasong-11, also known as KN-23, and potentially a new weapon for the second missile, Lee said.

The JCS strongly denounced the latest launches as a “provocative act” that gravely threatens peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and vowed to maintain overwhelming readiness against such provocations.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command also condemned the launches while noting they did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to its allies.

The launch came a day after the North’s foreign ministry denounced a joint exercise between South Korea, the United States and Japan, saying the country would take “offensive and overwhelming” countermeasures against what it called an attempt to strengthen a military bloc.

The three-day multidomain Freedom Shield exercise, which ended Saturday, involved fighter jets and warships, including a U.S. aircraft carrier, in international waters south of South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju.

The latest launch also took place five days after the North’s firing of a ballistic missile toward the East Sea on Wednesday.

The North claimed the next day to have successfully conducted a multiple warhead missile test, but the South has dismissed the claim as “deception,” saying the launch ended in failure as the missile exploded in midair.

The latest launch also took place amid growing concerns over deepening military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a “comprehensive strategic partnership” treaty during a summit last month in Pyongyang.

The pact includes a pledge for the two countries to come to each other’s aid if attacked.

The launch raised speculation it could possibly be a test for missiles intended to be sent to Russia, considering the KN-23 is suspected to have been used by Moscow. Lee declined to comment when asked about the possibility.

Seoul and Washington have accused Pyongyang of delivering arms to Moscow to fuel its war against Ukraine. Defense Minister Shin Won-sik has said arms trade between North Korea and Russia is expected to expand after their leaders’ signing of the treaty.

North Korea has ratcheted up cross-border tensions in recent weeks, launching trash-carrying balloons to South Korea in a tit-for-tat move against anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent by North Korean defectors and activists in the South.