The missile in North Korea’s latest launch didn’t fly very far, but it may have been the second test of a technology that worries experts.
The launch on Wednesday into waters off North Korea’s east coast came shortly before US President Donald Trump’s first meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this week, raising speculation that it might have been timed to get their attention.
Initial US and South Korean assessments indicate it was a KN-15 medium-range missile, whose first known test by North Korea was in February.
The KN-15, known as “Pukguksong-2” in North Korea, uses pre-loaded solid fuel, which shortens launch preparation times, boosts its mobility and makes it harder for outsiders to detect ahead of liftoff.
Most North Korean missiles use liquid propellant, which generally must be added to the missile on the launch pad before firing.
The South Korean military said the missile was fired from land near the east coast city of Sinpo and flew about 60 kilometers. The earlier one in February flew about 500 kilometers. Analysts were trying to determine if the shorter distance meant today’s launch was a failure.
One expert said it could have been a test of a new missile intended as a stepping stone toward developing a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the US mainland.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, questioned why North Korea would do a shorter launch of the KN-15.
“There’s absolutely no reason for North Korea to fire the KN-15 again this way; the launch measurements show something similar to when developing missiles are flight-tested for the first time for data-gathering purposes,” he said.
The KN-15 is believed to be an upgraded version of the submarine-launched “Pukguksong” launched last summer. Many experts say a “Pukguksong-2” missile would be a greater security threat, because it can be launched anywhere from a mobile vehicle. While submarines are a stealthy way to do that, North Korea doesn’t have enough of them.