A North Korean missile launch reportedly failed and blasted one of its own cities
- A failed North Korean missile test reportedly struck a populated city and may have detonated its unburnt fuel.
- Photos from around the time of the launch show a building in the city of Tokchon having sustained damage.
- The missile that failed is the same that flew over Japan twice, highlighting the danger of the seldom-tested rockets.
North Korea reportedly launched a Hwasong 12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in April 2017 that failed a few seconds into flight and came crashing down on one of its own cities.
The Diplomat's Ankit Panda and David Schmerler, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, cited a US government source as saying the missile failed a minute into flight and never went higher than 70 kilometers.
That initial minute of boosted flight propelled the missile 39 kilometers into Tokchon, a town of about 200,000 people in North Korea's interior, according to Panda and Schmerler's investigation.
Satellite imagery scanned by the authors shows damage to industrial or agricultural buildings nearby a residential area. The Hwasong-12, with unburned liquid fuel, could still cause a massive explosion even without any kind of warhead at all, though the authors conclude there were likely few casualties.
The wider threat of failed missile tests
But the fiery crash of a North Korean missile into a populated town demonstrates not only the threat Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions pose to its own people, but to the world.
North Korea has twice fired the Hwasong-12 over Japan. A similar failure in the launch process could potentially see a large liquid-fueled missile crashing down on a populated Japanese town.
Furthermore, the failure of the missile may not be apparent to Japanese radars, which might interpret the incoming body as a deliberate attack.
Another danger pointed out by the Diplomat comes from North Korea's newly demonstrated ability to launch missiles from nearly any point of its choosing.
Using mobile missile launchers, that sometimes even have treads like a tank, North Korea showed in 2017 it can launch from virtually anywhere within its borders.
The unpredictability and mobility of North Korea's launches mean that the US or its allies would have a hard time preempting such a launch, or even knowing where to look for one.