Japan has expressed concern about the growing military threat from North Korea, hours after the regime carried out its most successful test yet on a powerful medium-range missile that is capable, in theory, of striking US bases in the region.
“The threat to Japan is intensifying,” Gen Nakatani, the Japanese defence minister, said after the second of two Musudan missiles launched by the North on Wednesday morning flew 250 miles (400km).
That was the longest distance a Musudan has achieved to date and equivalent to more than halfway to the south-west coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu.
Experts said North Korea appeared to have launched the second missile on an unusually high trajectory so that it would avoid violating Japanese air space.
The missiles are usually test-fired at a flatter angle to maximise their range, according to Jeffrey Lewis at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California. “That suggests the missile worked perfectly,” he said. “Had it been fired at its normal angle, it would have flown to its full range.”
Lewis warned that North Korea would eventually iron out any technical problems with the Musudan and then use the lessons to increase the threat to the US. “If North Korea continues testing, eventually its missileers will use the same technology in a missile that can threaten the United States,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether Pyongyang considered the second Musudan launch a success or failure, or how the flight ended.
But it appeared to have been more successful than the first launch two hours earlier, which ended when the missile disintegrated mid-flight after covering about 90 miles, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
The second Musudan, launched from the same east location as the first, reached an altitude of 620 miles – an indication, Nakatani said, that the country was making progress in its programme to develop a reliable intermediate-range weapon capable of hitting targets that could include South Korea, Japan and the US Pacific territory of Guam.