Seoul (AFP) – North Korea tried and failed to test-fire a ballistic missile on Friday, as the country celebrated the birthday of founding leader Kim Il-Sung, the South Korean military said.
The failed test followed widespread reports that the North was preparing the first-ever flight test of its mobile, medium-range Musudan missile, believed to be capable of striking US bases in the Pacific island of Guam.
“The North appears to have attempted a missile test near its east coast early Friday morning, but it appears to have failed,” South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement.
The statement did not identify the missile type, but the South’s Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed military official as saying it was a Musudan.
The North lavishly celebrates the April 15 birthday of Kim Il-Sung — the grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong-Un — often with massive military parades featuring its latest weaponry or with missile launches.
Tension has been high on the divided Korean peninsula since Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and a rocket launch a month later widely seen as a disguised ballistic missile test.
The UN Security Council responded with its toughest sanctions to date, angering the North, which has since made repeated threats of attacks targeting the South and the US.
The nuclear-armed state has staged several short- and mid-range missile launches but has yet to test the Musudan, which has an estimated range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres (1,550 to 2,500 miles).
The lower range covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on Guam.
The Musudan was first unveiled as an indigenous missile at a military parade in Pyongyang in October 2010.
Analysis by security consultants IHS Jane suggests it is an intermediate-range, road-mobile, liquid-propellant, single warhead missile based on the Russian R-27 and using adapted Soviet Scud technology.
Mounted on a wheeled transport-erector-launcher vehicle, it could be fired within 15 minutes of the launcher being positioned and has a potential payload of 1.0-1.25 tonnes.