SEOUL - The latest North Korean missile test Wednesday, launched near the country’s submarine base in Sinpo, could indicate the military is developing counter measures to defend against the threat of a U.S. preemptive strike and to nullify the advantage of the THAAD missile defense system being deployed in the South.
Both the U.S. and South Korean militaries detected an early morning launch of a single ballistic missile at a land-based facility on the east coast of the country.
A top White House official says the missile was a liquid-fueled scud that spun out of control and crashed into the ocean. Initial U.S. and South Korean assessments said the missile was a KN-15 medium range ballistic missile.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.
The South Korean military Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired a ballistic missile into its eastern waters and that the projectile flew about 60 kilometers.
The location of Wednesday’s test is important because it demonstrates North Korea’s expanding capacity to launch an attack from various undisclosed locations utilizing an estimated arsenal of 100 missile launchers, each armed with several missiles.
North Korea’s last four missile tests were fired from different sites.
By demonstrating a capacity to launch a salvo of missiles from different sites, North Korea could neutralize the ability of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system.
Also, the Sinpo location, near the military submarine base and firing a KN-15 missile that had been used in past ocean-based launches, could indicate that the test was related to the development of a submarine launch based missile (SLBM) capability.
In August, North Korea successfully fired a SLBM that flew about 500 kilometers towards Japan. However Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said recently that Pyongyang is still years away from developing a reliable SLBM threat.
Developing a SLBM capability, however, would give North Korean forces the ability to position missiles outside of the THAAD radar field of vision that is forward looking toward the North.
Wednesday’s North Korean ballistic missile test was conducted just 48 hours before U.S. President Donald Trump is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
Any launch of objects using the ballistic missile technology is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, but the North has defied the ban as an infringement of its sovereign rights to self-defense and pursuit of space exploration.
Wednesday's launch came after Trump threatened that the United States is prepared to go it alone to counter the North's nuclear threat if China does not step in.
North Korea's foreign ministry on Monday assailed Washington for its tough talk and for an ongoing joint military exercise with South Korea and Japan, which Pyongyang sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion.
Youmi Kim contributed to this report.