North Korea launches missiles that can threaten US strategic bases
The Hwasong-18 missile was test-launched by North Korea in July 2023. Photo: KCNA

North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile, a weapon capable of threatening the US base in Guam, in its first launch of 2024.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea launched a ballistic missile from an area near the capital, Pyongyang, into the eastern sea of ​​the peninsula at 2:55 p.m. today. The projectile landed in an area about 1,000 km from the launch pad, in the sea between North Korea and Japan.

The Japanese Coast Guard said the missile fell outside the country’s exclusive economic zone.

This is North Korea’s first ballistic missile launch in 2024, taking place nearly a month after the country fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-18.

“We quickly detected the launch, tracked its flight path, shared information with the US and Japan, obtained very comprehensive data and are analyzing it,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. 

South Korea has not determined the specific type of the projectile but believes it is a long-range ballistic missile (IRBM), a weapon with a range of 3,000-5,500 km. This makes IRBMs launched from North Korea powerful enough to threaten key US bases on Guam island, located about 3,500 km from the Korean peninsula.

Pyongyang has not commented on the information.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said last week that North Korea may soon test a completely new solid-fuel IRBM model, as well as fire a long-range ballistic missile with an optimal firing angle to test weapon features.

In November 2023, North Korea announced the successful test of a solid fuel engine with high thrust for IRBMs. Engines using solid fuel possess a series of outstanding advantages over liquid fuel engines, although they are much more difficult to develop and manufacture.

They do not take much time to refuel before launching, increase mobility, are difficult to detect by enemy reconnaissance systems and can be deployed from many different locations. Solid fuel rockets also take less time and effort to maintain and move than liquid fuel.

Developing solid-fuel ballistic missiles is one of Pyongyang’s key goals: to increase the survivability of strategic missile forces when a conflict breaks out. Most North Korean ballistic missiles still use liquid fuel engines, but in April 2023, the country successfully tested the Hwasong-18 model using solid fuel with an estimated flight range of 15,000 km.