North Korea fired a suspected intercontinental missile along with multiple other ballistic missiles on Thursday, including one that triggered an air raid alert for residents of central and northern Japan.
Pyongyang launched 23 short-range missiles the day before from both of its coasts, and at different times, in addition to firing some 100 artillery rounds.
One of the North Korean missiles crossed the de facto maritime border with South Korea for the first time since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, according to the Yonhap news agency.
In response, US and South Korean fighter pilots fired at a “fake” target on an uninhabited island in the Yellow Sea. US and Japanese forces also carried out joint drills over the Sea of Japan.
The United Nations bans North Korea from carrying out ballistic missile testing and nuclear weapons testing. Such a launch is considered a major provocation.
Tokyo later said in a statement that the missiles did not fly over its territory.
However, officials in both Japan and South Korea said the projectile may have been an intermediate-range intercontinental ballistic missile – Pyongyang’s longest-range weapon – designed to carry a nuclear warhead.
The missile traveled 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles), reaching a height of around 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) – higher than the International Space Station, according to the BBC — before it landed in the Pacific Ocean, officials said.
The range was long enough to have allowed the missile to hit the US territory of Guam if the trajectory had been different.
South Korean officials added that the suspected ICBM was believed to have failed in its flight, according to Yonhap.
The missile dropped out of sight on radar over the Sea of Japan, Tokyo said, which retired Vice Admiral and former Japan Maritime Self Defense Force fleet commander Yoji Koda said, “means at some point in the flight path there was some problem for the missile, and it actually came apart.”
Nevertheless, neither Japanese nor South Korean defense ministries were willing to confirm the possible failure, Reuters reported.
On Wednesday, North Korea joined its ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in secretly supplying weapons to Russia for its war on Ukraine.
US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that North Korea has attempted to hide the shipments of artillery shells, and possibly rockets, by trying to make it appear as though they are being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa.