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North Korea Missile Test Hints at Greater Menace to U.S. Bases


North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile off its east coast on Tuesday, an indication that the country was continuing to develop missiles capable of targeting American military bases in the Western Pacific.

The missile, launched from near Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, did not fly over Japan, as have some of the IRBMs that North Korea has launched in the past. Instead, it fell in waters between the two countries after flying for 372 miles, the South Korean military said.

South Korean and American officials were analyzing data collected from the test to learn more about the missile, the military said. But analysts said the test may have involved a new intermediate-range hypersonic missile powered by a solid-fuel engine. Last month, North Korea said it had tested one such engine on the ground.

In recent years, North Korea has tried to make its missiles a greater threat to the United States and its allies in the region by combining ​new solid-fuel and hypersonic technologies. Missiles using such technologies are faster to launch and more difficult to intercept.

North Korea last conducted an IRBM test on Jan. 14, when it said it had launched a solid-fuel IRBM loaded with a hypersonic warhead. On March ​19, it said it had conducted a ground jet test of a solid-fuel engine for a new hypersonic IRBM.

Unlike its short-range ballistic missiles, an intermediate-range ballistic missile fired from North Korea can theoretically cover all of Japan and Guam​, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific.

If war broke out with North Korea, U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam would serve as launchpads for American reinforcement forces, including warplanes and naval fleets.​ Attacking those bases is a key part of North Korea’s war plan, according to military analysts.

While inspecting the missile engine test last month, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said the new intermediate-range missile was as important in strategic value as intercontinental ballistic missiles that it has been testing to target the mainland United States.

Mr. Kim had threatened to launch missiles into waters around Guam before starting direct diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump in 2018. He has doubled down on expanding his country’s missile capabilities​ after his talks with Mr. Trump collapsed without any agreement on how to end ​North Korea​’s nuclear weapons program or to ease United Nations sanctions imposed on the country​.

North Korea lacks sophisticated warplanes or submarines, leaving its missiles ​virtually the only means for Mr. Kim to ​launch nuclear weapons.

This year, North Korea has also conducted a series of tests involving an underwater drone and cruise missiles, which it said were being developed to carry nuclear warheads. The North’s last missile test took place on March 18, when it fired several short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast.

​In a 2022 report, the Pentagon ​said that “most of North Korea’s ballistic missiles have an assessed capability to carry nuclear payloads,” though using them against the United States or its allies would be suicidal for the regime. “There is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive,” the Pentagon said in its Nuclear Posture Review.

​North Korea remains determined to make its nuclear threat credible. On Monday, it said that it planned to launch several reconnaissance satellites this year to help its military better monitor its enemies and target them with greater precision.

In November, North Korea successfully launched its first military reconnaissance satellite in orbit. It claimed that the satellite started its spying mission in December. But South Korea’s defense minister, Shin Won-sik, told reporters in February that the North Korean satellite was so rudimentary in technology that it appeared to be “circling the earth idly” without transmitting any valuable data.

Analysts fear that North Korea may be able to improve its satellites and other weapons with ​Russian help. North Korea was accused of shipping artillery shells and missiles ​to Russia to help its war in Ukraine​ and of getting oil, military technology and other help from Moscow in return. North Korea has been preparing for another satellite launch from a spaceport on its northwestern tip in recent weeks, South Korean officials have said.



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