N. Korea fires suspected IRBM toward East Sea: S. Korean military

N. Korea fires suspected IRBM toward East Sea: S. Korean military
Photo credit: Yonhap

North Korea fired a suspected intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) toward the East Sea on Sunday, South Korea's military said, in its first missile launch this year, Yonhap reports.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from an area in or around Pyongyang at about 2:55 p.m., without providing further details, pending an analysis.

"While sharing information related to the launched 'North Korean missile' with U.S. and Japanese authorities, our military is maintaining a full readiness posture," the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.

In an interview with Yonhap New Agency last week, South Korea's Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said the North could test-fire new IRBMs as early as this month after the country claimed to have staged solid-fuel engine tests for a new type of IRBM in November.

An IRBM, which has a range of up to 5,500 kilometers, would place the U.S. territory of Guam within range if fired from Pyongyang.

Solid-fuel missiles are known to be harder to detect ahead of launch than liquid-propellant ones that require more prelaunch preparations, such as the injection of fuel.

The North has pressed ahead with its missile development program, firing a Hwasong-18 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile at a lofted trajectory into the East Sea on Dec. 18.

The latest launch comes amid heightened tensions after North Korea fired artillery shells near the maritime border in the Yellow Sea from Jan. 5 to 7, prompting the South to stage live-fire drills from its northwestern border islands.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he has no intention of avoiding war with South Korea, and threatened to annihilate the South if it attempts to use force against the North.

South Korean officials have said the North is likely to stage provocative acts early this year and escalate tensions ahead of South Korea's general elections in April.

The launch also came just before North Korean state media said its Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui will visit to Russia from Monday through Wednesday in the latest sign of growing bilateral ties.

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