North Korea fires ballistic missile, US State Department says

North Korea fired a projectile into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, on Wednesday morning, US and South Korean officials said.

The United States believes the projectile was likely a ballistic missile, according to a US official. It is one of several the country has test-fired in recent months.

The test elicited a terse response from the US State Department, unlike the standard diplomatic condemnations that usually follow Pyongyang’s missile tests.

“North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in the statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch and said the country’s National Security Council would meet on the issue.

North Korea’s missile test comes just a day before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits US President Donald Trump for a summit in Florida, and as the US, Japan and South Korea wrap up a round of trilateral naval military drills off the Korean Peninsula.

The United States has been pushing China to put pressure on North Korea to stop its nuclear program and missile testing, but Trump said on Sunday the United States would be prepared to act alone to stop North Korea.

A senior White House official on Tuesday said: “The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table,” pointing to the failure of successive administrations’ efforts to negotiate an end to the country’s nuclear program.

The primary concern surrounding North Korea’s weapons program is that Pyongyang could eventually equip long-range missiles with a nuclear warhead.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests — including two last year — but experts said the country still hasn’t developed nuclear warheads that can be mounted onto missiles.

“Before the end of President Trump’s current term, the North Koreans will probably be able to reach Seattle with an indigenously produced nuclear weapon aboard an indigenously produced intercontinental ballistic missile,” Michael Hayden, who served as the director of the CIA between 2006 to 2009, said Tuesday while speaking at Johns Hopkins University.

Hayden went on to call the North Korea the intelligence community’s biggest challenge.

Sinpo shipyard

The projectile used in Wednesday’s test was launched at 6:42 a.m. Seoul time from a site in the vicinity of Sinpo, South Hamgyong province, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said. It flew a distance of around 60 kilometers (37 miles), South Korean officials said.

The North Koreans use Sinpo shipyard for their submarine activity, and US satellites have observed increased activity there in recent days, a second US official said.

US Pacific Command said it detected and tracked a North Korean launch, according to a statement and assessed it was a KN-15 medium range ballistic missile.

“The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” said Cmdr. Dave Benham, spokesman for US Pacific Command.

The KN-15, which the North Koreans call the Pukguksong-2, is a medium range ballistic missile and a land variant of the KN-11, a submarine-launched ballistic missile. US officials said the latest missile launch used a solid-fueled rocket from a mobile launcher.

Solid fuel-powered missiles are easier to move and launch than their liquid fuel counterparts. That makes them difficult for those monitoring North Korea’s military movements to spot, as there are fewer indicators, such as movement of trucks, for South Korean or US satellites and other surveillance to pick up on.

That means they are also more survivable in the event of a US first strike.

North Korea’s liquid fuel-powered ballistic missiles up until now required a garrison, fuel storage tanks and support vehicles to launch, which can be identified with imagery, experts say.

Solid fuel is like an explosive jelly, less corrosive than liquid fuel, and it can be more easily stored in the rocket’s fuel tank than the liquid alternative, which requires specially lined tanks.

The Japanese government estimated the projectile did not land within its exclusive economic zone, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in a briefing Wednesday morning.