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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
The United States Air Force (USAF) tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) over the Pacific Ocean early Wednesday morning, according to an announcement from the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command.
The long-range missile, known as the Minuteman III, was unarmed and traveled about 4200 miles from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the Air Force said.
The Global Strike Command, which oversees the American missile program, operated the test from Malmstrom Air Force Base in the state of Montana.
“These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent,” the announcement said.
Wednesday’s test comes just days before the U.S. and North Korea are expected to begin long-anticipated working-level talks over the fate of the DPRK’s nuclear program later this week.
The talks would be the two nations’ first formal nuclear negotiations since the Hanoi Summit in February between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended without a deal.
The American missile test also comes less than 24 hours after North Korea test-fired a new missile of its own.
According to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the early hours of Wednesday morning in Korea, or Tuesday night in the U.S., the DPRK launched a missile from a submarine deployed in the waters off its east coast.
The projectile, known as a submarine-launched ballistic missile, was reportedly fired from a new North Korean submarine that Kim Jong Un had inspected earlier in the summer.
North Korean state media reported early on Thursday that the test had been successful.
Following that test, a State Department spokesperson urged Pyongyang to “abide by their obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions, and remain engaged in substantive and sustained negotiations.”
Wednesday’s American missile test, according to the U.S. Air Force, was “not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.”
“The launch calendars are built three to five years in advance, and planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch,” its report said.
One expert noted that these tests are routine for the U.S. Air Force.
“I do not think the timing of the test is directly related to North Korea,” said Hans Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
“The Air Force does the tests about four times a year, some in the spring and the rest in the fall,” he told NK News.
“Having said that,” he added, “the decision to go ahead with the test in the middle of a particularly busy missile testing/parading time among identified adversaries, shows the Air Force at least wasn’t trying trying to avoid the test mistakenly being seen as a signal to those countries.”
Another expert added that an American missile test in the Pacific — even a routine one — will inevitably rattle Pyongyang, regardless of the Air Force’s intentions.
“North Korea has talked about U.S. ICBM tests as evidence of America’s hostile policy towards them,” said Ankit Panda, an international security analyst and adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.
“The ICBM in theory is threatening to North Korea because it can fly from North Dakota to North Korea in 30 minutes.”
“Of course,” he added, “we wouldn’t use ICBMs on the Korean Peninsula because of the need to overfly Russian territory, which might start a war with Russia by accident.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: U.S. Air Force