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North’s recent missile was a Musudan, say military sources

Mar 24,2017
South Korean and U.S. military officials tentatively concluded that the projectile North Korea fired Wednesday morning, which failed, was either an intermediate range Musudan missile or an enhanced version of it, according to multiple local military sources who spoke exclusively with the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday.

The missile was fired near Kalma Airport in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, at 7:49 a.m. but exploded in mid-air seconds after take-off, said the sources.

The officials said they were cooperating with their American counterparts for further analysis.

On why they thought it was a Musudan, the sources, who work for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, said they were told by the U.S. military that the projectile looked similar to a Musudan missile and that it was fired from a transporter erector launcher, which is the normal method.

The reason it failed is unknown. The ministry said in a regular briefing Thursday that a “significant amount of time” will be needed for South Korean authorities to pin down the reason. It is also not known whether the failure had been the result of Washington’s alleged cyber warfare.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that former President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in the hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds, based on interviews with officials of the Obama and Trump administrations as well as a review of “extensive but obscure” public records.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo last week, U.S. State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner refused to confirm the report.

North Korea test-fired eight Musudan missiles last year but managed to succeed only once. Its capacity to fly 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) puts South Korea, Japan and U.S. military bases in the Pacific within range, including Guam.

On June 22, 2016, Pyongyang carried out its fifth and sixth Musudan missile tests of that year from Wonsan, and saw them fly 150 kilometers and 400 kilometers respectively, the second of which was widely considered here to be proof that North Korea’s military capability was enhancing.

Earlier attempts exploded just seconds after launch.

North Korea’s firing on Wednesday was its third time this year, and came 16 days after the most recent attempt. Pyongyang pushed through its first ballistic missile test on Feb. 12 with an intermediate range projectile that peaked at an altitude of 550 kilometers and flew 500 kilometers before crashing into the East Sea.

On March 6, it test-fired four Scud-ER missiles off its eastern coast, three of which fell into waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone; they all reached an altitude of about 260 kilometers and flew 1,000 kilometers.

The possibility of a sixth nuclear experiment by the North was recently raised by 38 North, a U.S. think tank, which cited satellite imagery near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

One possible date could be April 16, when the reclusive nation celebrates the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung, current leader Kim Jong-un’s grandfather.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]