North Korea uses mobile platforms to launch pair of missiles
North Korea apparently used mobile launch platforms to fire a pair of ballistic missiles Friday, in line with leader Kim Jong Un’s promise earlier in the week.
One of the missiles fell into the sea after crossing the country, while the other disappeared from radar shortly after launch, suggesting that it may have failed, South Korea’s Yonhap News quoted officials as saying.
“The U.S. tracked the launch of two ballistic missiles from North Korea,” a U.S. Department of Defense statement said. “Neither was assessed to be a threat to the U.S. or our regional allies. These launches are a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
The launches are the latest in a series of provocations by Pyongyang, starting with its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and the launch of a long-range rocket a month later, that have set off a steadily escalating crisis. It has further isolated the reclusive country and left officials wondering what Kim’s long-term motives and goals are and what more may lie ahead.
The U.N. Security Council has passed the toughest sanctions against the North in 20 years, with China reluctantly agreeing. Beijing prefers negotiations and fears that exerting too much pressure on Pyongyang could lead to the collapse of the regime and chaos on their joint border, but also seems to be losing patience over the continued brinksmanship.
Increasingly belligerent as U.S. and South Korea forces stage their largest-ever annual spring military exercises, Kim has claimed in recent weeks to have developed a miniaturized nuclear bomb that could be fitted into a missile warhead, ordered production of more bombs and vowed another nuclear test and launches of several different types of missiles.
Experts have cast doubt on some of the claims of significant developments in the North’s nuclear and weapons programs, but it’s clear that Pyongyang is making a major thrust in both.
The country also has threatened to turn South Korea, the U.S. mainland and U.S. bases in the Pacific into a “sea of fire and ashes” and talked about pre-emptive strikes if it sees signs of an invasion.
The use of mobile launch platforms is particularly worrying since it adds capability to mount an attack quickly, as is recent work the North has carried out at its traditional launch site that appears aimed at camouflaging any preparations for a launch. New satellite photos also have shown a flurry of activity at its submarine bay that could be part of efforts to develop the capability to launch ballistic missiles from submarines.
While the spring exercises always anger the North, which calls them preparation for an invasion, Kim also appears to be trying to show that he is fully in command amid widespread speculation that he has not consolidated power more than four years after taking over following the death of his father. The ruling Workers’ Party also will hold its first congress in three decades in May.
The U.S. has countered some of the North’s moves with shows of force by sending in a B-2 bomber from Guam for a low-level flyover of South Korea and dispatching four F-22 fighters from Okinawa, while South Korea has passed its own sanctions and closed down a joint factory complex that was the final symbol of inter-Korean cooperation but also provide a source of hard currency for the North’s battered economy.
Stars and Stripes staffer Tara Copp contributed to this report.