TOKYO — North Korea on Sunday conducted another ballistic missile launch — the 11th such test this year — in its latest show of defiance to the international community and its demands to stop its provocative threats.
Despite repeated condemnations and warnings of additional sanctions, Kim Jong Un’s regime has been pressing ahead at a relentless pace to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, which would be capable of reaching the mainland United States.
Kim supervised the launch and declared it “perfect,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Monday morning.
Although analysts say the regime has several key technologies to master before it can deliver a nuclear-tipped missile to a target, they also point out that it inches close to its goal with every test.
Sunday’s launch was of a medium-range ballistic missile, fired from a site at Pukchang, north of Pyongyang, at 4:29 p.m. local time, according to U.S. Pacific Command and South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff. It flew about 310 miles, landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Analysts said it appeared to be another Pukguksong-2 (or Polaris-2), a land-based version of North Korea’s submarine-launched missile. North Korea has fired this type of missile once before, in February while President Trump was meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida.
The Pukguksong-2 launched in February also flew about 310 miles and appeared to be powered by solid fuel, which allows for immediate firing, rather than the more laborious process needed to prepare older-style liquid-fueled missiles for launch. North Korea can roll a solid-fuel missile out of a tunnel or hangar and launch it before satellites can track it.
“Building large solid missiles is difficult,” David Wright, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ global security program, wrote in an analysis.
Other countries, such as France and China, had progressed from building a medium-range solid missile, which North Korea has done, to building a solid intercontinental ballistic missile — but it took them several decades, Wright said.
“So this is not something that will happen soon, but with time North Korea will be able to do it,” he wrote.
Kim celebrated the launch, KCNA reported.
“Saying with pride that the missile’s rate of hits is very accurate and Pukguksong-2 is a successful strategic weapon, he approved the deployment of this weapon system for action,” the report said.
The missile now met technical requirements and “should be rapidly mass-produced in a serial way” to arm the Korean People’s Army’s Strategic Force, Kim told the assembled rocket scientists and officials.
Sunday’s launch was the 11th of this year and the third successful flight test in a row, said Shea Cotton, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation in California.
Kim has rapidly stepped up the tempo of missile testing since he took over from his father at the end of 2011. Only 16 missiles were launched during the 17 years that Kim Jong Il was in power, but Kim Jong Un oversaw 13 tests in 2015 alone and nine last year. He has ordered 11 missile tests in the first five months of this year, according to Cotton’s data.
White House officials traveling with Trump in Saudi Arabia said they were aware of the launch. “This system, last tested in February, has a shorter range than the missiles launched in North Korea’s three most recent tests,” an official told reporters.
In Tokyo, Abe said North Korea’s repeated missile launches “trample on the efforts by the international community” to find a peaceful solution to the nuclear problem, the Kyodo news agency reported.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened a national security council meeting to discuss the latest launch, and the U.N. Security Council said it would call a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the latest provocation.
This latest missile launch came just a week after the North Korean government fired a new kind of ballistic missile, apparently a smaller version of one of its ICBM prototypes, that flew 435 miles.
The North Korean leader called it a “perfect weapon system,” according to state media reports showing a happy Kim at the launch site, that was able to carry “a large-size heavy nuclear warhead.”
North Korea has a history of making exaggerated claims, and it is not clear whether it can do all the things it says it can. Although it has published photos of what it says are miniaturized nuclear weapons and shown off increasingly large missiles and canisters at military parades, their capabilities have not been proven.
But Robert Litwak, director of international security studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, warned against getting bogged down in “widget analysis” when North Korea’s bigger-picture goal was increasingly obvious.
Instead, the Trump administration and the international community should be trying to stop North Korea from making further progress, he said.
“In the absence of serious diplomacy to constrain their testing problem, sometime in the next couple of years they will have mastered the technology needed to hit the homeland,” Litwak said. “There is a window for serious diplomacy.”