North Korea fired what it claims to be a “space launch vehicle” southward Wednesday, but it fell into the Yellow Sea after an “abnormal” flight, the South Korean military said, in a botched launch that defied international criticism and warnings.
The North confirmed the failure, saying its new “Chollima-1” rocket carrying a military reconnaissance satellite, “Malligyong-1,” fell into the sea due to the “abnormal starting of the second-stage engine,” according to its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). It plans to conduct a second launch as soon as possible, the KCNA said.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from Tongchang-ri on the North’s west coast at 6:29 a.m. and the projectile fell into waters some 200 kilometers west of the South’s southwestern island of Eocheong following its flight over the waters far west of the border island of Baengnyeong.
The South Korean military identified an apparent part of the North’s vehicle and retrieved it, the JCS added. The part could shed light on the makeup of the rocket and the North’s technological progress, observers said.
The North notified Japan and the International Maritime Organization of its plan earlier this week to launch a satellite between May 31 and June 11 despite criticism that it would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology.
The recalcitrant regime last launched a rocket carrying what it called a “Kwangmyongsong-4” satellite in February 2016.
After the latest launch, the presidential office convened an emergency standing committee session of the National Security Council, which condemned the launch as a “serious provocation” that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community.
President Yoon Suk Yeol was immediately briefed on the launch and continued to be updated in real-time, according to his office.
The United States denounced the North’s launch, the White House said, noting President Joe Biden and his security team are assessing the situation in coordination with the allies and partners.
“The United States strongly condemns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for its launch using ballistic missile technology, which is a brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, raises tensions, and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and beyond,” National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge said in a statement. DPRK is the North’s official name.
In a separate release, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command stressed the “ironclad” security commitment to South Korea and Japan, saying it will continue to monitor the situation.
The top nuclear envoys of South Korea, the United States and Japan held three-way phone talks and also “strongly condemned” the launch, saying that it cannot be justified in any way, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.
On Tuesday, Ri Pyong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, made the launch plan official, defending its pursuit of the satellite and other reconnaissance means as “indispensable” to cope with “dangerous military acts” of the U.S. and South Korea.
A group of students on a school trip checks an emergency alert on their smartphones, which urged Seoul residents to take shelter, at Seoul Station in the capital shortly after the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the launch of what it claims to be a “space launch vehicle” southward from Tongchang-ri on the North’s west coast at 6:29 a.m., May 31. Yonhap
Observers said that the North appears intent to secure intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets as it is far behind the allies in ISR capabilities despite its focus on developing an array of formidable weapons systems, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles and tactical nuclear arms.
Wednesday’s failure could pose a setback to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who appears keen on reducing the gap in ISR capabilities, particularly after South Korea successfully launched a homegrown space rocket just last Thursday in a key milestone for its space program.
The North said it would conduct another launch “as soon as possible,” but analysts said it could take months to correct defects found in Wednesday’s launch. The North fired a satellite-carrying rocket in an apparently failed launch in April 2012 and conducted another launch eight months later.
In the runup to the launch, South Korea “strongly” warned that it will make Pyongyang pay “due prices” should the launch go ahead.
An apparent part of a purported North Korean space launch vehicle is seen in waters some 200 kilometers west of the southwestern island of Eocheong, in this photo provided by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, May 31. Yonhap
The rocket launch marks the North’s first such provocation since it fired what it claimed to be a Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile on April 13.
The North previously launched what it called a satellite-carrying rocket five times ― one each in 1998, 2009 and 2016, and twice in 2012― according to Seoul’s defense ministry.
The North claimed to have put a satellite into orbit after its launch in December 2012 and 2016. But it remains unknown whether they have been functioning normally. (Yonhap)