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North Korean ICBM launch was staged; older missile used, Seoul says

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North Korean ICBM launch was staged; older missile used, Seoul says
North Korea staged the launch of its Hwasong-17 ICBM and fired an older missile instead, South Korea's military said, while using footage from an earlier failed test. Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, March 30 (UPI) -- North Korea did not test-fire its enormous new Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile last week as it claimed but instead launched an older ICBM, South Korea's military said.

In a report presented to lawmakers on Tuesday, the defense ministry said the missile North Korea fired appeared to be the Hwasong-15, which it had previously tested in November 2017.

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The ministry based its conclusion on an analysis of factors, including the ICBM's acceleration, combustion and stage separation time.

The missile that North Korea launched on Thursday only had two engines, the report said, while the Hwasong-17 is known to have four. A video released by North Korea also appeared to have been mixed with earlier footage, based on time of day and weather conditions.

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The report was not made public, but a defense ministry official confirmed its details to UPI.

North Korea celebrated the launch of what it claimed was the Hwasong-17, the massive ICBM first seen at a military parade in October 2020, with photos and a propaganda video that appeared to take inspiration from films such as Top Gun.

In state media, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the launch a "miraculous victory" that demonstrated the nuclear-armed state's "invincible power."

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However, questions began swirling soon after the launch, which came just a week after an ICBM believed to be the Hwasong-17 exploded shortly after takeoff.

An analysis by Seoul-based site NK News on Friday outlined inconsistencies in images and video that Pyongyang released and suggested that some of the footage was taken from that failed earlier test.

News agency Yonhap also reported in the days after the launch that officials in South Korea and the United States suspected the missile had in fact been the Hwasong-15.

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Washington has still not publicly weighed in on the issue.

"We assess that that launch was a probable ICBM, and we continue to analyze the test in close coordination with our allies and partners," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

Lawmaker Ha Tae-keung of South Korea's opposition People Power Party told reporters Tuesday that North Korea likely staged the launch of the Hwasong-17 to save face for the domestic audience after the dramatic failure of its previous attempt.

The ICBM that North Korea fired on March 16 exploded directly above the North Korean capital city, Ha said, according to Yonhap.

"[The explosion] was visible to the naked eye, and debris fell like rain over Pyongyang," he said.

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After ending a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile launches, concerns are mounting that North Korea is preparing to detonate a nuclear weapon, with construction activity spotted at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

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