SEOUL, South Korea—North Korea fired a newly developed powerful ballistic missile into its eastern waters on Wednesday, US and South Korean officials said, amid worries the North might conduct nuclear or long-range rocket tests ahead of the first summit between President Donald J. Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping this week.
The initial US and South Korean assessments indicated it was a KN-15 medium-range missile, whose first publicly known test in February was considered by many foreign experts as a potentially worrying development.
It uses solid fuel already loaded inside the missile, which would shorten launch preparation times, boost the weapon’s mobility and make it harder for outsiders to detect the signs of its liftoff.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had said after the February launch that the missile, called “Pukguksong-2” in North Korea, provided another nuclear attack capability against the United States and South Korea. Most of North Korea’s missiles use liquid propellant, which usually must be added on the launch pad before the weapon is fired.
The missile fired from land in the area of the eastern coastal city of Sinpo on Wednesday morning flew about 60 kilometers, according to a South Korean military statement. The missile launched in February flew about 500 kilometers, but it wasn’t immediately clear if the shorter distance meant on Wednesday’s launch was a failure.
North Korean state media said the Pukguksong-2 missile is a surface-to-surface missile that can carry nuclear warheads. It is likely to be an upgraded version of the submarine-launched missile named “Pukguksong” launched last summer.
Many South Korean experts say Pukguksong-2 missile would be a greater security threat because it can be launched anywhere from a ground-based mobile vehicle. While submarines are also a stealthy way to do that, North Korea doesn’t have enough of them.
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank in Honolulu, said he was expecting North Korea would do something to coincide with the Trump-Xi summit, perhaps conduct a nuclear test. The missile launch may be a precursor, with more to come as the summit starts later this week, Cossa said.