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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
Update 20:15 GMT: Statement from U.S. DOD assessing a likely ICBM launch
North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday morning Pyongyang time, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported – citing the ROK’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The missile test represents Pyongyang’s first launch since September 15, when it successfully fired an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Hwasong-12 missile.
“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,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
The missile reached an altitude of 4500km and a flight distance of 960km.
The corresponding time in Pyongyang would be 2:47 am, with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) indicating it detected a launch at a similar time and initially judging it to be an intercontinental ballistic missile.
“The U.S. Department of Defense detected and tracked a single North Korean missile launch today at about 1:17 p.m. EDT. Initial assessment indicates that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM),” a statement issued by Colonel Robert Manning, the Director of Press operations at the DOD, read.
“The missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1000km before splashing down in the Sea of Japan, within Japan’s Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ). We are working with partners on a more detailed assessment of the launch,” the press release added.
According to Japanese broadcaster NHK, the Japanese government put the missile’s flight time at 50 minutes.
“The current numbers we are seeing on this test indicates that it is the longest range missile the DPRK has tested so far,” Scott LaFoy, an NK Pro analyst, told NK News.
“This most likely makes it a Hwasong-14/KN20 modification, possibly associated with some of the new, smaller engines we’ve seen tested recently.”
The Japanese Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the report on Twitter, saying that the missile landed in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, also said on social media that U.S. President Donald Trump “was briefed, while missile was still in the air, on the situation in North Korea.”
Trump, speaking at a press conference at the White House on Tuesday said the U.S. “will take care” of North Korea in response to the launch.
He added the situation was one Washington “will handle,” though did not give further details how the U.S. planned to proceed.
According to the NK Pro Missile Tracker, Wednesday mornings launch represents the 20th missile tested by North Korea in 2017. A possible additional test was conducted in June, however this remains unconfirmed.
North Korea does not typically conduct many missile tests or launches in the fourth quarter of the year.
“The timing is irregular, the only November launch in recent history was an Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) in 2015,” LaFoy said.
North Korea has already conducted two ICBM launches in 2017 – both Hwasong-14 missiles – on July 4 and July 28, which flew over the Japanese territory.
Edited by Oliver Hotham