SAN FRANCISCO, April 15, (THEWILL) – A North Korea’s missile test exploded during launch on Sunday.
The failure comes as a powerful U.S. aircraft supercarrier approaches the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
It wasn’t immediately clear what kind of missile was test-fired from the east coast city of Sinpo but the failure will sting in Pyongyang because it comes a day after one of the biggest North Korean propaganda events of the year, the celebrations of the 105th birthday of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.
The North’s test firing can be seen as a message of defiance to the Trump administration in Washington, coming as it does on the day U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is set to arrive in Seoul for talks on North Korea.
President Donald Trump was uncharacteristically quiet about the failed launch. In a statement, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Trump and his military team ‘are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment.’
Washington and Seoul will try hard to figure out what exactly North Korea fired. This matters because while North Korea regularly launches short-range missiles, it is also developing mid-range and long-range missiles meant to target U.S. troops in Asia and, eventually, the U.S. mainland.
Washington sees North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as a threat to world security and to its Asian allies, Japan and South Korea. The United States, South Korea and other countries have vowed to apply more pressure on the North, but so far nothing has worked to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Analysts believe that the ultimate goal is to have a full array of nuclear-tipped missiles in response to what Pyongyang says is hostility by Washington and Seoul meant to topple its government and North Korea is thought to have a small arsenal of atomic bombs and an impressive array of short- and medium-range missiles.
Many outside analysts however believe that North Korea has not yet mastered the technology to build warheads small enough to place on long-range missiles, though some civilian experts say North Korea can already build nuclear-tipped shorter range missiles that have South Korea and Japan within its striking range.
The U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement that Sunday’s missile exploded on launch while South Korea’s Defence Ministry said it was analysing exactly how the North Korean launch failed. Neither military knew what kind of missile was fired.
Analysts warn that even failed missile launches provide valuable knowledge to North Korea as it tries to build its weapons program. The country launched a long-range rocket and conducted two nuclear tests last year, including its most powerful to date.
Aside from improving the technology, North Korean missile and nuclear tests are seen by outside analysts partly as efforts to bolster the domestic image of leader Kim Jong Un and apply political pressure on Seoul and Washington.
Kim Jong Un has overseen three nuclear tests and a string of missile and rocket launches since taking over after the death of his father, dictator Kim Jong Il, in late 2011.
Another missile test from Sinpo failed earlier this month, when the rocket spun out of control and plunged into the ocean. That launch came shortly before Trump’s first meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, its only major ally.