North Korea fires its highest-flying ICBM to date, toward Japan’s coast

A missile launching during a drill in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on August 30. KCNA via Reuters
  • North Korea has fired its highest-flying intercontinental ballistic missile toward Japan’s coast.
  • The launch came amid rumours that North Korea would conduct a missile test “within days.”
  • A few minutes after South Korea detected the launch, it staged a “precision strike” missile exercise, Yonhap News reported.

North Korea has fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that initial estimates show could be the highest altitude reached by the country’s missile program.

The ICBM, launched at about 3 a.m. Wednesday local time, flew east from South Pyongan Province, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a Yonhap News report.

“North Korea launched an unidentified ballistic missile into the East Sea from the vicinity of Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province, at around 3:17 a.m. today,” the Joint Chiefs said.

A Pentagon official said in a statement that the missile travelled about 1,000 kilometers, or over 620 miles, and landed in the Sea of Japan, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

“The North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America, our territories or our allies,” Col. Robert Manning said. “Our commitment to the defence of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, remains ironclad. We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation.”

North Korea missile
North Koreans watch a news report showing North Korea’s Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile launch on an electronic screen at Pyongyang station in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kyodo/via Reuters

The missile reached an altitude of about 2,800 miles, US officials told ABC News. If initial estimates are confirmed, that will be the highest altitude reached by a North Korean missile.

Homeland Security officials in Guam, a US territory that North Korea has previously threatened, issued a statement on Facebook saying there was “no immediate threat to Guam or the Marianas.”

A few minutes after South Korean forces detected the launch, they staged a “precision strike” missile exercise, the Joint Chiefs told Yonhap News.

President Donald Trump gave a short statement on the missile during a press conference Tuesday: “I will only tell you that we will take care of it,” Trump said. “We’ve had a long discussion on it.”

“We will take care of that situation,” Trump continued. “Nothing changed, we have a very serious approach. We take it very seriously.”

Defence Secretary James Mattis also confirmed initial reports that the latest missile made a breakthrough in terms of North Korea’s capabilities: “[The] missile went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they have taken,” Mattis said. “It’s a research and development effort on their part.”

“The bottom line is that its a continued effort to build a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace, and certainly the United States,” Mattis continued.

During a visit to South Korea earlier in November as part of his tour of Asia, Trump proposed making “a deal” with North Korea.

“I really believe that it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal that’s good for the people of North Korea and the people of the world,” Trump said. “I do see certain movement, yes. But let’s see what happens.”

After his trip, Trump designated North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the US to impose additional sanctions against the country.

Reuters reported earlier Tuesday that US government experts had seen indications that North Korea would conduct a missile test “within days.”

A Japanese government official said the country had detected radio signals indicating North Korea may be preparing for another ballistic missile launch, according to Reuters. The signals, however, were reportedly inconclusive – satellite images did not show new activity, and North Korea has in the past deliberately sent misleading signals of an imminent launch.

North Korea’s previous missile test, in mid-September, raised alarms after it flew over Hokkaido, in northern Japan. That missile, fired at about 7 a.m. local time, initiated emergency alerts in Japan. Japan did not attempt to shoot down the missile, according to NHK, the country’s public broadcast outlet.

Before that test, North Korea conducted a series of launches, at one point averaging about one every two weeks.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.