North Korea launched a missile Wednesday from the Sunan area of Pyongyang, which failed almost immediately, South Korean officials said. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
SEOUL, March 16 (UPI) -- A North Korean ballistic missile appeared to have exploded shortly after launch near Pyongyang on Wednesday, South Korea's military said, in what may have been the secretive regime's latest test of a massive new intercontinental ballistic missile.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message to reporters that the North fired an unknown projectile from the Sunan area near the capital city at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
"It is presumed that [the test] failed immediately after launch," the JCS said.
An official from Seoul's defense ministry confirmed to UPI that the projectile was assumed to be a ballistic missile, but no further details were given.
Seoul-based NK News reported that debris from the failed test crashed in or near Pyongyang. A photo seen by the North Korea-focused news site showed "a red-tinted ball of smoke at the end of a zig-zagging rocket launch trail in the sky," the report said.
North Korea's previous two missile tests, on Feb. 27 and March 5, were also fired from Sunan, where Pyongyang's international airport is located.
The North claimed that those launches were connected to a new reconnaissance satellite program but U.S. and South Korean officials concluded they were tests of a new ICBM system, likely the enormous Hwasong-17 that Pyongyang first unveiled at a military parade in October 2020.
Go Myong-hyun, senior research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told UPI that Wednesday's launch appeared to be another test of the Hwasong-17. He speculated that the launch could have failed over new technologies that North Korea was attempting to develop for the ICBM, including a solid-fuel engine and a mobile launcher.
"They may have tried to test a solid-fuel rocket engine and it didn't work out," he said. "The Hwasong-17 is the largest ICBM that exists today; it could also be that in erecting for the launch it wasn't structurally sound enough to resist the stress."
North Korea has previously tested two ICBMs, the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, both of which used liquid-fueled rockets and were fired from stationary launch pads.
Firing from a mobile launcher would make the missile, which analysts believe may be capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, much more difficult to detect.
The U.S. military in South Korea announced on Tuesday that it had "intensified" training exercises for its Patriot missile defense system in light of the recent flurry of activity from North Korea.
In a statement Wednesday, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of the launch and was consulting with South Korea and Japan.
"While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation," the Honolulu-based command said in a statement.
Wednesday's failed launch was North Korea's 10th test since the beginning of the year. Monitors have also recently detected activity at both its Yongbyon nuclear reactor facility and its Punggye-ri nuclear test ground.
Washington leveled new sanctions against two Russian individuals and three entities last week over their support for Pyongyang's weapons program.