According to reports provided by American and South Korean officials, North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile on Wednesday that exploded shortly after takeoff.  It is currently believed that the missile launch was intended as yet another round of testing for the fledgling nuclear power’s missile program that seems to have its sights set on developing a truly intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with global strike capability.

Wednesday’s test is believed to have been of a similar variety to last year’s series of intermediate-range missile launches, as it was fired from the same location, Wonsan, North Korea near the country’s East Coast.  Also like Wednesday’s test, all but one of North Korea’s previous attempts from that location failed last year as well.

“U.S. Pacific Command detected what we assess was a failed North Korean missile launch attempt … in the vicinity of Kalma,” Commander Dave Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command, said in a statement.  Kalma is the name of an airfield located within Wonsan.

“A missile appears to have exploded within seconds of launch,” Benham added, before stipulating that an investigation is underway in order to produce a more detailed assessment of the events that occurred on Wednesday.

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense also issued a statement regarding the test, stating plainly, “South Korea and the US are aware of the missile launch and to their knowledge North Korea’s missile was not successfully launched.”

Thus far, no concrete information has surfaced regarding what type of missile was fired, but early assessments point toward an intermediate range ballistic missile not unlike those tested previously from the same region of the country.  The high failure rate would indicate that further testing will be required prior to producing a fieldable nuclear platform of that particular model of missile.  It bears noting, however, that the North Korean government have been working to develop more than one missile platform simultaneously, so this failure is not necessarily indicative of the entire nuclear-delivery program.

Just one day prior to the failed launch, North Korea announced testing for a new rocket engine, calling the step a “great leap forward” in their missile program.  A number of defense officials have warned such an engine could likely be a part of ongoing efforts toward a long-range nuclear platform that may even be capable of targeting the mainland United States.  Previous successful missile tests have already indicated North Korea’s ballistic missile reach places a number of U.S. military installations, particularly those in South Korea and Japan, well within the North Korean’s tactical strike scope.

A number of missile tests from the North Koreans have come amidst an annual large-scale joint military exercise on their southern border, in which American and South Korean forces train for a potential clash with the North.  The operation has seen a dramatic increase in military force along the contentious border, including air operations conducted from the Nimitz class super carrier USS Carl Vinson, which arrived last week.

“The North Koreans respond to (the drills) almost every year with some kind of outlash or provocation or something like that,” Robert Kelly, associate professor of political science at Pusan National University, told the media. “Missile tests are a nice way to send a signal.”

Wednesday’s test marks the second North Korean ballistic missile test this month.  On March 6th, they fired four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, with three landing within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.  It is widely speculated that the test was intended to demonstrate North Korea’s ability to strike U.S. installations on the island nation.

During his trip to South Korea last week, American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not mince words regarding American efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, stating that no options were off the table when it comes to the reclusive state, including “kinetic options,” or direct military action.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson told a news conference in Seoul.

White House officials are reportedly evaluating U.S. policies toward North Korea, and are expected to announce a new series of sanctions against the Asian nation in the near future.


Image courtesy of AFP