North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile off its east coast on Sunday, an indication, analysts said, that it has started testing a new and harder-to-intercept weapon capable of reaching American military bases in the Western Pacific, including those on Guam.
The missile was launched from near Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Sunday afternoon, but it did not fly over Japan, as some of the IRMBs North Korea has launched in the past have. Instead, it fell in waters between North Korea and Japan, covering a distance of 621 miles, South Korean military officials said.
The launch was the North’s first missile test since it fired a Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile on Dec. 18.
North Korea tested the Hwasong-18, its first solid-fuel ICBM, for the first time in April 2023 and launched the same kind of missile two more times last year, a sign that the country was increasingly shifting to solid-fuel ballistic missiles. Because they are easier to transport and faster to launch than liquid-fuel missiles, they are more dangerous.
North Korea has tested an array of solid-fuel short-range ballistic missiles since the collapse of direct diplomacy in 2019 between its leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Donald J. Trump.
So far, all of its intermediate-range ballistic missiles, including the Hwasong-12, rely on liquid fuel.
South Korea did not provide any further details about the missile that North Korea launched on Sunday. But it was most likely a new solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile that the North has been developing, said Yang Moo-jin, the president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
In an interview with the news agency Yonhap last week, the South’s defense minister, Shin Won-sik, said North Korea could start testing a new solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile as early as this month.
The earliest indication that North Korea was developing a solid-fuel IRBM came on Nov. 15, when it said it had conducted ground tests of solid-fuel engines for such missiles.
The test on Sunday was the North’s first confirmed intermediate-range ballistic missile launch since it fired a Hwasong-12 over Japan in October 2022, although some analysts have said that a failed test that the North conducted on Nov. 22 may have involved the new solid-fuel missile.
North Korea triggered alarms in the region in 2017 when it twice launched a Hwasong-12 over Japan, demonstrating that it had a missile with a capacity to reach Guam. Earlier that year, it had threatened to launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into waters around Guam, after Mr. Trump warned of “fire and fury” against the North.
The United States and its allies have become increasingly concerned about North Korea’s frequent missile tests under Mr. Kim because the country claims to have developed nuclear warheads that it can mount on its various missiles, and it has openly threatened to use them in a war.
During a governing Workers’ Party meeting at the end of December, Mr. Kim called for “a vigorous struggle for carrying out the nuclear weapons production plan in 2024.”