In spite of the apparent failure of another North Korean missile test at the weekend, the country’s aggressive testing schedule could see its Musudan intermediate ballistic missile entering operational service sometime next year – much sooner than expected, says a leading US expert.
The US military said on Saturday it had detected a failed launch of a Musudan, the latest in a series in violation of United Nations resolutions.
John Schilling, an aerospace engineer specializing in rocket propulsion, said it is noteworthy that North Korea launched the missile from its west coast, rather than from its purpose-built test facility, Reuters reports.
“Moving to a roadside near Kusong is like taking the training wheels off the bicycle, seeing if you really have mastered something new,” the news agency quoted Schilling as saying in a post on the 38 North website that monitors North Korea.
Schilling said the move showed that in spite of only one successful launch to show for seven attempts this year, North Korea was not simply repeating old failures.
The US Strategic Command said the missile failed in a launch near North Korea’s northwestern city of Kusong.
South Korea’s military said the missile failed immediately after launch, but neither it nor the Pentagon suggested reasons.
The Musudan has range of some 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles), posing a threat to South Korea and Japan, and possibly the US territory of Guam, Reuters said.
Pyongyang claims that it has succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead that can be mounted on a missile, but this has never been independently verified.
According to Schilling, North Korea is “continuing with an aggressive test schedule that involves, at least this time, demonstrating new operational capabilities. That increases the probability of individual tests failing, but it means they will learn more with each test.”
“If they continue at this rate, the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile could enter operational service sometime next year – much sooner than had previously been expected,” he said.
The latest test comes ahead of a meeting on Wednesday in Washington of US, Japanese and South Korean defense and foreign ministers expected to focus on North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.
The top US diplomat for East Asia said last month Washington would speed up deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea given the pace of North Korea’s missile tests.
Japanese government sources told Reuters Japan may accelerate around US$1 billion of planned spending to upgrade its ballistic missile defenses.
The UN Security Council on Monday condemned North Korea’s failed ballistic missile test, saying it fueled tensions and contributed to the Asian state’s development of a nuclear weapons system.
“The members of the Security Council further regretted that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is diverting resources to the pursuit of ballistic missiles while Democratic People’s Republic of Korea citizens have great unmet needs,” the 15-member body said in a statement.
The council agreed to take “further significant measures”.
Pyongyang is already under heavy international sanctions over its missile and nuclear tests.
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