North Korea carried out a provocative new ballistic missile test early Sunday, sending a projectile to a higher altitude and closer to Russia than any of its recent tests, according to officials.
A missile launched near the city of Kusong, in western North Korea, flew across the country and into the Sea of Japan/East Sea, hitting the water about 60 miles from Vladivostok in eastern Russia, according to US officials.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said the missile reached an altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) and flew for 30 minutes.
“It is possibly a new type of missile,” Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said.
The high altitude and longer flight time indicate a missile with an extended range, according to David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Writing on his organization’s blog, Wright pointed out that If the missile did reach that height and fly that long, it could reach the US territory of Guam in the Pacific.
Guam is home to Andersen Air Force Base, through which the US Air Force rotates heavy bombers including B-1s, B-2s and B-52s.
Sunday’s missile test “points to a new threshold of capability potentially crossed,” said Euan Graham, an expert on North Korea at Australia’s Lowy Institute.
Tong Zhao, an analyst with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, said if the missile does have the range to hit Guam, it could give North Korea “a regional nuclear deterrence,” meaning it might not need to pursue an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which could reach the US mainland.
But Graham said it could be a stepping stone to just that.
North Korean engineers “may well be able to draw warhead re-entry data from that which is applicable to their ICBM ambitions,” he said.
Russia responded to North Korea’s test by putting its far eastern air defenses on high alert, according to a report from the RIA-Novosti news agency.
“We cannot fail to understand that the territory of Russia is not only an object for attack but also a place where a missile may fall. In order to protect ourselves from possible incidents, we will keep our air defense systems in the Far East in a state of increased combat readiness,” Viktor Ozerov, head of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, is quoted as saying.
SOURCE: Brad Lendon