What you need to know about North Korea’s missile test over Japan?

Seoul, South Korea

North Korea Launched a ballistic missile without warning Japan For the first time in five years, Tuesday marked a significant expansion of its weapons testing program in a highly provocative and reckless move.

The missile is believed to have traveled over northern Japan in the early hours of the morning and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea finally fired a missile at Japan It was in 2017.

It marks North Korea’s 23rd missile launch this year, including launches in a single year since leader Kim Jong Un came to power in 2012. By comparison, Pyongyang conducted four tests in 2020 and eight in 2021.

Here’s what you need to know about North Korea’s missile tests.

Tuesday’s missile flew a distance of about 4,600 kilometers (2,858 miles), reached an altitude of about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) and reached a top speed of Mach 17 — about 17 times the speed of sound, according to Japanese officials.

By comparison, the US island territory of Guam is just 3,380 kilometers (2,100 miles) from North Korea.

Two experts told CNN that the flight details suggest the missile that was fired was the Hwasong-12 — an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that was last tested in January.

“It’s a missile that North Korea started testing in 2017 … so it’s not really a new missile,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of CNS’s East Asia Nonproliferation Program.

But its output is significant because of the distance it can travel, he said.

“North Korea has short-range missiles that won’t get past Japan — but they have a small number of missiles that can make that trip,” he said.

North Korea routinely fires missiles off the coast of the Korean Peninsula — making the flight significantly more provocative over Japan for both practical and symbolic reasons.

This type of unannounced launch can pose a danger to aircraft and ships as the missile is en route to its target, as they would have no prior warning to avoid the area.

If the test had failed and the missile fell short, it would have put large population areas at risk. According to Hirokazu Matsuno, Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan, home to more than 8 million people, the missile flew over Japan’s Tohoku region.

In the past, American planes were grounded As a precaution following North Korea’s missile launch. In late November 2017, several commercial jet pilots reportedly saw a North Korean missile re-enter as it approached the Sea of ​​Japan.

However, Lewis stressed, such risks are statistically insignificant, especially in the Pacific, where it is farther away and higher than Japan, where it flies overhead. Mostly, it’s an extension of “launching a missile at your neighbor is provocative.”

“For the Japanese in particular, it feels like a violation of their sovereignty,” Lewis said. “If Russia launches a missile over Florida, we’ll be fine.”

And, experts say, it’s a sign of Kim’s ambitions for North Korea’s weapons development — and what’s to come.

There are differing views on what motivated North Korea to launch the missile on Tuesday.

Robert Ward, senior fellow for Japanese security studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, points to the many security threats Japan faces from an aggressive Russia to the north and China to its south.

“North Korea may try to take advantage of the unstable international situation, which it will see as a tailwind,” he said.

Although North Korea sometimes retaliates or retaliates against specific actions by Western players or groups, Lewis disagreed, saying, “They keep their own schedule … and I don’t think we have much influence over the timing.”

There are also practical reasons; He said North Korea often takes a break from testing when the weather is bad in the summer, and resumes when autumn and early winter arrive — meaning now might be the perfect time to test.

Joseph Dempsey, research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Tuesday that the flight path would lead to a better test.

This type of missile is aimed at long-range targets – so flying it over Japan will help North Korea gauge its long-range accuracy, ability to withstand various forces exerted on the missile, and other factors compared to its conventional “range”. “Tests – it travels high and splashes down west of Japan.

Explained: How much damage can North Korea’s weapons do?

Kim pledged earlier this year to develop North Korea’s nuclear weapons at the “highest possible” pace – and experts say Tuesday’s launch is part of a push for weapons advancement.

“North Korea is going to continue to conduct missile tests until the current round of modernization is completed,” Lewis said, adding that a nuclear test could come “at any time.”

South Korean and US officials have warned since May that North Korea is preparing for a nuclear test, after satellite images show activity at its underground nuclear test site.

If North Korea conducts the test, it would be the country’s seventh underground nuclear test and the first in nearly five years.

There are other missile tests to watch. In addition to the Hwasong-12, North Korea has three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of flying over Japan, though these “have yet to be tested to their full range,” Lewis said.

“It will whet the appetite for the main course yet to come,” he added. “When North Korea puts more faith in one of their ICBMs, I expect them to fly full blast over Japan.”

Leif-Erik Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, said North Korea may wait until China holds its Communist Party Congress in mid-October to “conduct a more significant test.”

“The Kim regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear weapons and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to outpace South Korea in an arms race and drive a wedge between U.S. allies,” Easley said.

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