NORTH Korea has fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that has sufficient range to strike the entire US mainland, officials say.
US Air Bases in Japan urged personnel to take cover before the missile landed just 200km off the country’s coast.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the North Korean missile flew about 1,000km at a maximum altitude of 6,100km and at a maximum speed of Mach 22 (almost 17,000mph).
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters the altitude suggests the missile was launched on a high angle.
He said depending on the weight of a warhead to be placed on the missile, the weapon has a range exceeding 15,000km, in which case it could cover the entire mainland US.
It is thought Kim Jong-un’s developmental ICBM Hwasong-17 may have been tested – with its huge size suggesting it is designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads.
The US quickly slammed the blast and vowed to take all necessary measures to guarantee the safety of its mainland and allies South Korea and Japan.
The launch comes a day after a smaller missile launch by the North and its warning of “fiercer military responses” to the US boosting its regional security presence.
US Vice President Kamala Harris will meet leaders of Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia and New Zealand on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on Friday to discuss the launch, a White House official said.
Harris is in Thailand for the APEC summit, amid heightened geopolitical tensions over the war in Ukraine and other flashpoints such as Taiwan and the Korean peninsula.
Friday’s launch adds to a record-breaking year for North Korea’s missile programme, after it resumed testing ICBMs for the first time since 2017 and broke its self-imposed moratorium on long-range launches as denuclearisation talks stalled.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the ICBM launch from North Koreas capital region around 10.15am (2.15am GMT).
They said the weapon flew toward the Norths eastern coast across the country. Japan said the ICBM appeared to have flown on a high trajectory and landed west of Hokkaido.
Misawa Air base, which hosts both Japanese and US troops, briefly issued an order to seek cover, according to a post on the base’s Facebook page.
US National Security Council spokesman Adrienne Watson said the launch “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilising regional security while showing the North’s prioritising of unlawful weapons programmes over the well-being of it people”.
He said President Joe Biden was briefed over the launch.
Watson added: “Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions and instead choose diplomatic engagement.”
“The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies.”
Hamada, the Japanese defence minister, called the launch a “reckless act that threatens Japan as well as the region and the international community”.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launch a “grave provocation and serious threat to undermine international and regional peace and security”.
It said South Korea maintains readiness to make an overwhelming response to any North Korean provocation amid close coordination with the United States.
North Korea has conducted a record number of missile launches this year, including 23 missiles of various types in a single day on November 2.