North Korea has launched another intercontinental ballistic missile test on Sunday, warning it is meant to further bolster its “fatal” nuclear attack capacity.
The test comes in response to the upcoming military training between the United States and South Korea, with Pyongyang threatening additional powerful steps.
The US responded by flying long-range supersonic bombers later on Sunday for a joint exercise with South Korean warplanes in a demonstration of strength against North Korea.
Saturday’s ICBM test, the North’s first missile test since January 1, signals its leader Kim Jong Un is using his rivals’ drills as a chance to expand his country’s nuclear arsenal.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said its launch of the Hwasong-15 ICBM was organised “suddenly” without prior notice at Kim's direct order.
KCNA said the launch was designed to verify the weapon’s reliability and the combat readiness of the country’s nuclear force.
It said the missile was fired at a high angle and reached a maximum altitude of about 5,770 kilometres (3,585 miles), flying a distance of about 990 kilometres (615 miles) for 67 minutes.
It then before accurately hit a pre-set area in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, the agency claims. The steep-angle launch was apparently to avoid neighbouring countries.
The flight details reported by North Korea, which roughly matched the launch information previously assessed by its neighbours, show the weapon is theoretically capable of reaching the mainland US if fired at a standard trajectory.
The Hwasong-15 launch demonstrated the North’s “powerful physical nuclear deterrent” and its efforts to “turn its capacity of fatal nuclear counter-attack on the hostile forces” into an extremely strong one that cannot be countered, KCNA said.
Whether North Korea has a functioning nuclear-tipped ICBM is still a source of outside debate, as some experts say the North hasn’t mastered a way to protect warheads from the severe conditions of atmospheric re-entry.
The North says it has acquired such a technology.
North Korea is sensitive to the deployment of US B-1B bombers, which are capable of carrying a huge payload of conventional weapons.
The North’s launch came a day after it vowed an “unprecedentedly” strong response over a series of military drills that Seoul and Washington plan in coming weeks.
In a statement on Sunday, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of Kim Jong Un, accused South Korea and the US of “openly showing their dangerous greed and attempt to gain the military upper hand and predominant position in the Korean Peninsula.”
“I warn that we will watch every movement of the enemy and take corresponding and very powerful and overwhelming counteraction against its every move hostile to us,” she said.
North Korea has steadfastly slammed regular South Korea-US military drills as an invasion rehearsal though the allies say their exercises are defensive in nature.
US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the county will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and South Korea and Japan.
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