North Korea appears to have accidentally sent a missile crashing down into a city during a test that went awry last April, a new open source intelligence report revealed Wednesday.
North Korea tested a new intermediate-range ballistic missile six times last year. The first three tests ended in failure, with one test sending a ballistic missile into a town not too far from the test site.
North Korea conducted its third test of the previously-unseen Hwasong-12 IRBM, an impressive weapon that served as a stepping stone in the development of a longer-range missile able to range the U.S. mainland, on April 28, 2017. The missile fell out of the sky over North Korean territory after its first-stage engines failed after about a minute of powered flight, The Diplomat reports, citing U.S. government sources with knowledge of the North’s weapons programs.
Relying on photographs released by North Korea during a concert held in July, Dave Schmerler, a geolocation specialist and research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and Ankit Panda, a foreign affairs expert and the senior editor at The Diplomat, were able to use satellite images to identify both the launch site and the impact point for the April 28 missile test.
The missile was fired out of Pukchang Airfield, and it landed on what appears to be either an agricultural or industrial complex in the North Korean city of Tokchon. As the liquid-fueled missile did not, according to U.S. government sources, explode in flight, there is reason to believe that the missile exploded when it slammed into the earth, causing considerable damage.
The full extent of the damage is unknown, but satellite images show clear differences between the immediate before and after pictures of the facility believed to have been hit by the failed missile.
What makes this type of failure alarming is that after a successful lofted test of the Hwasong-12 in May, North Korea proceeded to fire its new weapon out of the populated capital city of Pyongyang and over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. Were the missile to fail over Pyongyang, it could cause kill civilians, and the same is true of a similar failure over Japan. Were the North to accidentally strike a U.S. ally, it might trigger a regional military conflict.
Such a catastrophe is possible with a dummy warhead, and North Korea has threatened to possibly conduct a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific. A failure involving a live nuclear warhead over North Korea or over a neighboring country could easily lead to the deaths of thousands of people. Regardless of whether or not North Korea accidentally slammed a ballistic missile into one of its cities, there are many serious risks associated with North Korea’s weapons testing, which is expected to continue in the year ahead.
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