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North Korea Conducts Overnight Ballistic Missile Launch

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SEOUL—North Korea conducted another middle-of-the-night weapons launch early Friday, Seoul and Tokyo officials said, as Pyongyang added to what is already an unprecedented year of missile tests.

A short-range ballistic missile was fired from the Sunan area on the outskirts of Pyongyang at 1:49 a.m. local time, Seoul’s military said. The missile traveled roughly 400 miles after hitting a maximum altitude of 31 miles, before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, Tokyo’s Defense Ministry said.

The weapons launch followed apparent North Korean military air exercises, involving about 10 planes that flew near the inter-Korean border, from late Thursday evening to just past midnight, Seoul’s military said. South Korea scrambled its F-35A jet fighters and other assets in response.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it would maintain a full readiness posture, in coordination with the U.S., and strengthen monitoring. Japanese Defense Minister

Yasukazu Hamada

said that North Korea has “persistently and unilaterally” escalated provocations, calling the spree of tests absolutely unacceptable.

North Korea over the years conducted many of its weapons tests in the hours after sunrise. But Pyongyang has made an exception in recent days: a Sunday launch of two ballistic missiles occurred between 1:48 a.m. and 1:58 a.m. local time, while a Wednesday test of a pair of long-range cruise missiles began at around 2 a.m., Seoul’s military has said.

North Korean leader

Kim Jong Un

has implored his military to advance the country’s nuclear program, while expressing disinterest in diplomacy with Washington and Seoul.

In recent weeks, the 38-year-old Mr. Kim has guided a spree of missile tests that simulated tactical nuclear strikes against the U.S. and South Korea—including a launch that Pyongyang claimed had been fired from an underwater silo. He also oversaw the Wednesday launch of cruise missiles, which stayed airborne for nearly three hours and flew in oval and figure-eight patterns, Pyongyang’s state media said.

It wasn’t immediately known if Mr. Kim had attended the Friday launch. But part of North Korea’s aim at firing missiles at unusual hours and from unconventional places is to demonstrate the country has the ability to evade U.S. and allied missile defenses in the region, weapons experts say.

During a recent holiday filled with fireworks and celebrations, North Korean state media released photos showing Kim Jong Un supervising drills simulating nuclear strikes against the U.S. and South Korea. The images hint at what could be next for the regime’s negotiations with the West. Photo Composite: Emily Siu

A new South Korean administration under conservative leader

Yoon Suk-yeol

has taken a more confrontational line with the Kim regime and promised to boost deterrence in the face of Pyongyang’s string of weapons provocations.

North Korea has now conducted 27 missile launches in 2022, the most it has ever done in a single year. The Kim regime began the year with a flurry of activity, including a March return to long-range weapons tests for the first time in years. But over the summer, Pyongyang grew relatively quiet as it contended with a Covid-19 outbreak that Mr. Kim has since declared victory over.

Since Sept. 25, North Korea has unleashed nine missile tests. That included flying an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in roughly five years, a major provocation that triggered emergency alerts and alarms.

The weapons activity has prompted the U.S., along with South Korea and Japan, to increase joint military drills.

North Korea could conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 in the coming weeks, South Korean officials have said.

On Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said North Korea’s missile tests, which violate a variety of United Nations Security Council resolutions, have only further isolated the regime from the international community. The provocations have only made Pyongyang the “object of condemnation,” the spokesman said.

–Chieko Tsuneoka in Tokyo contributed to this article.

Understanding the North Korean Regime

Write to Timothy W. Martin at [email protected]

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