N.Korean Missile Blows up in Mid-Air

  • By Yu Yong-weon

    March 17, 2022 11:54

    North Korea on Wednesday launched a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile, but it blew up in mid-air a few seconds after launch.

    It remains unclear if the latest launch was an attempt to test the maximum range of a new ICBM or an earlier-stage experiment. U.S. and South Korea military officials believe the chances are high of more provocations by North Korea and have deployed all of their intelligence assets for surveillance.

    The Joint Chiefs of Staff here said North Korea launched what is believed to have been a ballistic missile from the Sunan area of Pyongyang at around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, but it failed immediately after takeoff.”

    Military officials believe the missile blew up at an altitude of less than 20 km after liftoff. The fact that it took place in the Sunan area, where other ballistic-missile tests were conducted on Feb. 27 and March 5, has persuaded the military here to suspect it was an ICBM.

    A U.S. Forces Korea reconnaissance aircraft lands at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on Wednesday. /Yonhap

    The missile appears to have blown up due to a problem with its engine. When the North test-launched the ballistic missiles, the maximum altitude they reached was between 560 km and 620 km. The latest failure makes it difficult to determine what the maximum altitude and reach of the missile may have been.

    A missile requires tremendous thrust at liftoff, and a problem with the booster rocket can trigger an imbalance in the engine that could cause an explosion, said Kwon Yong-soo, a former professor at Korea National Defense University.

    And Chang Young-keun at Korea Aerospace University said, "There are scores of parts in an engine, including the combustion chamber, valves and pumps and they might have malfunctioned or pressure may have built up to cause the explosion."

    Some experts even speculated that a U.S. cyberattack may have been the cause of the explosion. Such a tactic is referred to as a "left of launch" mission that disrupts the computer system of a missile in the launch-preparation stage.

    When the North launched the Musudan mid-range missile in 2016 and 2017, seven out of eight attempts ended in failure, which was belatedly revealed to have been the result of a U.S. hacking mission.

    Military officials say there is a strong chance that North Korea will attempt another long-range missile launch ahead of the 110th birthday of nation founder Kim Il-sung. 

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