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North Korea fires intermediate-range ballistic missile into East Sea

A TV report shows North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in the capital on Tuesday. The missile flew around 375 miles before splashing down in the East Sea, defense officials said. Photo by Yonhap
A TV report shows North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in the capital on Tuesday. The missile flew around 375 miles before splashing down in the East Sea, defense officials said. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, April 2 (UPI) -- North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile into the East Sea Tuesday, South Korea's military said, the latest in a slew of weapons tests by the isolated regime this year.

Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message to reporters that it detected a projectile presumed to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile fired from the Pyongyang area at 6:53 a.m.

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The missile flew around 375 miles before splashing down in the East Sea, the JCS said.

"Our military immediately detected, tracked and monitored the launch of a North Korean missile and closely shared related information with the U.S. and Japan," the JCS said. "Detailed specifications are being comprehensively analyzed."

Hawaii-based U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of the launch and was consulting with South Korea and Japan.

"The United States condemns these actions and calls on the DPRK to refrain from further unlawful and destabilizing acts," the command said in a statement, using the official name of North Korea. "While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, or territory, or to our allies, we continue to monitor the situation."

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The launch was the North's third ballistic missile of the year among a range of weapons tests and heated rhetoric that has kept tensions ratcheted up on the Korean Peninsula.

On March 20, Pyongyang announced that it successfully tested a solid-fuel engine for a new type of hypersonic missile, and South Korean defense officials said that Tuesday's launch may have been a trial of the new delivery system.

"We believe [the launch] is related to the solid-fuel ground test that North Korea publicly reported in March," JCS spokesman Col. Lee Sung-jun said at a press briefing.

Hypersonic weapons travel at least five times the speed of sound and are designed to be maneuverable, making them difficult to intercept. In January, Pyongyang said it test-fired a new solid-fuel intermediate-range missile with a hypersonic warhead, which could place U.S. military installations in Guam -- around 2,100 miles away -- within reach.

Lee said Tuesday's launch showed "some similarities and some differences" with the January test and added that further analysis was required.

"There is a possibility that the launch vehicle's capabilities have been enhanced," he said.

A hypersonic missile was among a wish list of weapons that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un laid out at a party congress in January 2021, alongside nuclear-powered submarines, submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles, "ultramodern tactical nuclear weapons" and military satellites.

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On Monday, a North Korean official announced that Pyongyang planned to place several spy satellites into orbit this year.

Tuesday's launch comes amid growing military ties between North Korea and Russia, with evidence that Moscow is sharing advanced weapons technology and helping Pyongyang evade sanctions in exchange for munitions. Russia last week used its veto power to end a U.N. Security Council group that monitors sanctions violations by the North.

It also comes about a week ahead of the April 10 general election in South Korea, which defense officials have said may be a target for further provocations from the North.

"Further analysis is needed for [another intermediate-range ballistic missile] launch in the run-up to the general election," Lee said. "There is also a possibility of additional missile launches and the launch of a space launch vehicle from [satellite facility] Tongchang-ri in the future, and we are keeping a close eye on it. "

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