North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday for the first time in five years, triggering a warning for residents to seek shelter and the brief stoppage of train operations in northern Japan.
The Japanese government issued a warning to its inhabitants to seek cover, as the missile looked to have flown over and passed its land before crashing into the Pacific Ocean.
It was the first North Korean missile to follow such a trajectory since 2017, and Tokyo speculated that its 4,600 km (2,850 miles) range may have been the longest for a North Korean test flight, which are often “lofted” higher into space to avoid flying over neighboring nations.
The most recent launch was Pyongyang’s sixth in the past ten days, in the midst of military posturing by the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The United States aircraft carrier halted in South Korea for the first time since 2017 to participate in trilateral anti-submarine operations with South Korea last week.
Recent tests elicited more subdued responses from Washington, which is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine and other domestic and international crises, but the US military has increased exhibitions of power in the region.
Tokyo stated that no measures were taken to intercept the missile. As Japan seeks to bolster its defenses in response to North Korea’s repeated missile launches, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada stated that Japan would not rule out any alternatives, including retaliatory capabilities. South Korea also stated that it would strengthen its military and expand cooperation with allies.
“North Korea’s series of actions, including its repeated ballistic missile launches, endanger the peace and security of Japan, the region, and the international community, and pose a serious challenge to the entire international community, including Japan,” said Japan’s top government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno at a news conference.
Test of realism
According to officials in Tokyo and Seoul, the missile travelled between 4,500 and 4,600 kilometers (2,850 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of roughly 1,000 kilometers.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of South Korea stated that it seemed to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) launched from Jagang Province, North Korea. This province has been utilized by North Korea to conduct a number of recent tests, including the purported launch of multiple hypersonic missiles.
According to Japanese broadcaster NHK, the test caused East Japan Railway Co. to cease train operations in the northern regions as a result. Matsuno stated that there had been no complaints of the missile causing harm to aircraft or vessels.
Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korean Navy officer who currently teaches at Kyungnam University, speculated that the missile may have been a Hwasong-12 IRBM, which North Korea debuted in 2017 as part of its threat to hit US military bases in Guam.
The Hwasong-12 was utilized in 2017 tests conducted over Japan, and Kim reported that it was also tested from Jagang Province in January.
Ankit Panda of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated that North Korean scientists are able to conduct more realistic missile tests by launching rockets over such a great distance.
“Compared to the typical high-altitude trajectory, this allows them to expose a long-range reentry vehicle to thermal loads and atmospheric reentry stresses that are more indicative of the circumstances they would face in actual operation,” he explained.
“Politically, it’s complicated: the missile travels largely outside the atmosphere while it’s over Japan, but it’s unsettling for the Japanese public to get alerts of a possibly oncoming North Korean missile.”
According to observers, North Korea’s flurry of missile tests helps make more of its arsenal operational, develops new capabilities, and sends a signal that development is a sovereign right.
Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council that impose sanctions on North Korea prohibit its missile and nuclear weapons development.
Reactions in politics
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea referred to the test as “reckless” and stated that his country’s military, its allies, and the international community would respond with serious action.
South Korea displayed several rocket launchers, ballistic missiles, main battle tanks, drones, and F-35 jets on Saturday to commemorate Armed Forces Day.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo that North Korea’s acts were barbarous and that the government will continue gathering and analyzing information.
During an online session held by the Institute of Corean-American Studies, Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US ambassador for East Asia, described the launch over Japan as “unfortunate” and “not a productive road ahead.”
The North has finalized preparations for a nuclear test, which it may conduct between China’s Communist Party Congress this month and the midterm elections in the United States in November, according to South Korean MPs.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul, and by Chang-Ran Kim and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo. Writing by Josh Smith. Editing by Leslie Adler, Chris Reese, Lincoln Feast, and Gerry Doyle.