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North Korea Launches Two Ballistic Missiles: What to Know

As Washington and Seoul work to fortify their alliance, North Korea has responded by launching a barrage of missile tests, including strategic cruise missiles, short-range missiles and a bevy of intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.

Seoul and Washington have continued to ramp up their joint military exercises in recent months, some involving nuclear-capable ​American ​strategic bombers and large-scale live-​fire drills near the inter-Korean border. Here is what we know about North Korea’s continued missile launches.

July 2023

North Korea Conducts First ICBM Test in Three Months

Two short-range ballistic missiles fired on July 24 | Several cruise missiles launched on July 22 | Two short-range ballistic missiles fired on July 19 | An ICBM launched on July 12

A photograph provided by North Korean state media showed the test firing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-18, at an undisclosed location in North Korea, in July.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday, as the county geared up to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The missiles, launched from near Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, shortly before midnight Monday, and fell in waters off the North’s east coast, the South Korean military said.

Earlier Monday, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered United States submarine visited a naval port in Jeju, an island off the south coast of South Korea, for a military resupply. A week ago, an American nuclear ballistic missile submarine visited South Korea for the first time in four decades, prompting North Korea to warn of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.

Also on Monday, North Korea said that a Chinese delegation led by Li Hongzhong, a member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party will visit Pyongyang to take part in the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. The Chinese visitors are the first large foreign delegation North Korea has invited since it shut its borders in 2020 for fear of the pandemic.

The Korean War was suspended in a truce signed on Thursday 70 years ago. North Korea celebrates the anniversary as a war victory day. Outside analysts have detected signs that North Korea was preparing for a military parade to celebrate the anniversary.

JUNE 2023

North Korea Resumes Missile Tests After Two Months

Two short-range ballistic missiles launched on June 16

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on June 15, its first missile test in two months. Japan bristled at the test because the missiles landed within its exclusive economic zone.

Hours before the North Korean launch, the United States and South Korean militaries conducted a joint live-fire exercise near the inter-Korean border as part of efforts to bolster their combined readiness against North Korean threats.

APRIL 2023

North Korea Launches a Sold-Fuel ICBM, a First

The solid-fuel ICBM Hwasong-18 tested on April 13

A photograph provided by North Korean state media showed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, inspecting what it says was the test-launch of the Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile at an undisclosed location, North Korea, in April.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Associated Press

North Korea launched the three-stage Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile on April 13. It was the North’s first test of a solid-fuel ICBM.

If developed successfully, a solid-fuel ICBM would be a significant addition to the North’s fast-expanding nuclear arsenal. A solid-fuel missile is easier to hide and transport, and it takes less time to prepare one for launch. That makes it harder to target in pre-emptive strikes than the North’s Hwasong-14, -15 and -17 ICBM models, all of which use liquid propellants.

March 2023

North Korea Steps Up Missile Tests as Seoul and Washington Start Joint Military Drills

Two short-range ballistic missiles fired on March 27 | Four strategic cruise missiles launched on March 22 | A short-range ballistic missile fired on March 19 | An ICBM launched on March 16 | Two short-range ballistic missiles fired on March 14 | Two strategic cruise missiles launched from a submarine on March 12 | Six short-range ballistic missiles launched on March 9

A photograph provided by North Korean state media showed what it said was an intercontinental ballistic missile in a launching drill in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Thursday.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Associated Press

North Korea launched six short-range ballistic missiles off its west coast on March 9, testing what it called its ability to attack military airfields in the South. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, watched the test with his young daughter, according to North Korean state media. Three days later, the North launched cruise missiles from a submarine for the first time.

On March 13, the United States and South Korea started Freedom Shield, one of their biggest combined military exercises in years. Three days later, North Korea launched an ICBM. North Korea has vowed to take “persistent and strong” countermeasures against “frantic war preparation” by its enemies.

North Korea said it launched a short-range ballistic missile on March 19, later saying it had practiced detonating a mock nuclear warhead 2,600 feet above the sea between North Korea and Japan. It also said it had detonated mock nuclear warheads when it fired four strategic cruise missiles on March 22. In the same week, the country said it had tested an “underwater nuclear attack drone” capable of creating “a super-scale radioactive tsunami.”

FEBRUARY 2023

North Korea Conducts First Missile Test in a Month and a Half

Four strategic cruise missiles fired on Feb. 23 | Two short-range ballistic missiles tested on Feb. 20 | An ICBM launched on Feb. 18

A news broadcast in Seoul about North Korea’s missile test in February.Credit…Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on Feb. 18, its first ICBM test in three months. The test, which the North said involved its Hwasong-15 ICBM, came a day after its Foreign Ministry had warned of taking “unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions” against the annual joint military drills planned by the United States and South Korea.

The United States and South Korea staged a joint air drill involving B-1B bombers on Feb. 19 in response to the North’s ICBM test. In turn, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles the next day. Ms. Kim, Kim Jong-un’s sister, also threatened to use “the Pacific as our firing range.” On Feb. 23, North Korea launched four cruise missiles off its east coast to demonstrate what it called its “deadly nuclear counterattack capability.”

JANUARY 2023

North Korea Greets New Year With Missile Test

A short-range ballistic missile launched on Jan. 1

Photographs released on Jan. 1 by North Korean state media, showing missile launches that it said were carried out the previous day. Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

North Korea started the new year by launching a short-range ballistic missile, indicating that it would persist in weapons development in 2023. The missile was fired from Pyongyang, the capital and flew 248 miles before falling into the waters off the country’s east coast, the South Korean military said.

December 2022

New ICBM Appears to Be in Development

Three short-range ballistic missiles launched on Dec. 31 | Two short-range ballistic missiles fired on Dec. 23 | Two medium-range ones on Dec. 18

On Dec. 16, North Korea tested what it called a new, high-thrust rocket engine that used solid fuel as it looks to expand its capabilities. Two days later, it launched what the South Korean military called two medium-range ballistic missiles from the same site where the new rocket engine was tested. North Korea claimed that it was testing technologies to place a military spy satellite into the Earth’s orbit.

A photograph from North Korean state media showing what it said was the test of a powerful new engine.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

South Korean officials are analyzing data to determine if the tests had anything to do with the North’s efforts to build a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile. Such a missile would be easier to transport and hide, and faster to launch — and thus harder to intercept — than the North’s existing ICBMs, all of which depend on liquid fuel.

Kim Yo-jong, the sister and spokeswoman for the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, warned on Dec. 20 that the country may launch a missile on a full ICBM range for the first time in the country’s history. Experts have questioned whether North Korea possesses the technology to do so on full trajectory — entering space and blasting back through the Earth’s atmosphere to hit its intended target. Ms. Kim threatened to put those doubts to rest.

NOVEMBER 2022

A Next-Generation ICBM Is Tested

A Hwasong-17 ICBM fired on Nov. 18 | Six ballistic missiles, including an ICBM, on Nov. 3 | At least 29 short-range ballistic and other missiles on four different days

A photograph from North Korean state media showed North Korea’s leader with his daughter inspecting a Hwasong-17 ICBM.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A photograph from North Korean state media of what it said was an ICBM launch.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Reuters

November was the busiest month in North Korean missile tests in 2022, with at least 46 ballistic and other missiles launched, half of them on Nov. 2 alone. One of the missiles fired that day flew over the inter-Korean maritime border and fell into waters off the east coast of South Korea, triggering an aerial-attack warning alarm on a populated island. In response, the South fired three air-to-surface missiles across the border into waters near North Korea.

The North capped its brisk weapons activities in November by test-firing the Hwasong-17, its newest and most powerful ICBM, on Nov. 18. The missile was launched at a deliberately steep angle, high into space. The flight data indicated that if launched at a normal angle, the missile theoretically could reach anywhere in the continental United States.

October 2022

A Missile Flies Over Japan

An intermediate-range ballistic missile launched on Oct. 4 | Two “long-range strategic cruise missiles” on Oct. 12 | Nine short-range ballistic missiles on five different days

A display of a Tokyo news report on a North Korean missile launch.Credit…Kimimasa Mayama/EPA, via Shutterstock

In the fall, South Korea, the United States and Japan stepped up joint military exercises to strengthen their deterrence against North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear threat. At the same time, North Korea’s missile tests became increasingly provocative. On Oct. 4, North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew over northern Japan, triggering alarms and prompting residents to seek cover. On Oct. 12, it launched what it called two “long-range strategic cruise missiles” that it said were deployed at units operating “tactical nukes.” It also claimed that it rehearsed the launching of “nuclear warheads” at “the enemies’ main military command facilities” during tests conducted on Oct. 6.

September 2022

First Test From an Underwater Silo

Five short-range ballistic missiles launched on three different days

A photograph provided by North Korean state media of a missile launch.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Associated Press

As the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sailed to waters off the Korean Peninsula for joint military drills with South Korea and Japan in September and October, North Korea began testing short-range ballistic missiles. It said that one test simulated the launch of a nuclear missile from an underwater silo; another rehearsed the launch of “nuclear warheads” at airports in South Korea.

August 2022

North Rebuffs Overtures From South Korea

Two cruise missiles fired on Aug. 17

President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea said he does not want the status quo with the North changed “unreasonably or by force.”Credit…Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

North Korea fired two cruise missiles off its west coast, two days after President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea made what he called an “audacious” proposal to the North. Mr. Yoon said South Korea would start providing economic incentives immediately if the North began serious negotiations to denuclearize. North Korea called him “simple” and “childish.”

June 2022

U.S. and Allies Respond to Provocations

Eight short-range missiles fired on June 5

A joint drill of U.S. and South Korea Air Force fighter jets.Credit…South Korea Defense Ministry, via Associated Press

Eight short-range ballistic missiles were fired from four different locations in North Korea. The missiles flew between 68 and 416 miles to the east. Over the next two days, South Korea and the United States conducted live-fire missile and joint air force drills to counter the North’s escalation.

May 2022

Biden Trip Prompts a Volley of Missiles

A submarine-launched ballistic missile fired on May 7 | Seven other ballistic missiles on three different days

President Biden with Mr. Yoon, visiting the Air Operations Center on Osan Air Base in South Korea.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

North Korea launched three ballistic missiles on May 25 while President Biden was flying home after a visit to South Korea and Japan. The first missile was believed to be an ICBM fired on a reduced range, covering a distance of only 224 miles. In response, the United States and South Korea each fired a ballistic missile in a counter military drill.

April 2022

North Korea Tests a New Weapon

Two short-range ballistic missiles fired on April 16

A photograph from North Korean state media. The regime claimed to have tested a new tactical guided weapon.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Associated Press

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast in April. It later indicated that the “new-type tactical guided weapon” was developed as a means of delivering “tactical nukes.”

March 2022

One of the Most Powerful ICBM Launches

An ICBM launched on March 24 | A failed ICBM test on March 16 | A ballistic missile on March 5

A photograph from North Korean state media showed Mr. Kim during an ICBM test.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A photograph from North Korean state media showed the ICBM launch.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

North Korea said on March 5 that it launched a rocket as part of its efforts to send a reconnaissance satellite into space. But South Korean and American officials said that the North was testing a Hwasong-17 ICBM. Not all of the Hwasong-17 tests were successful, with one rocket exploding shortly after takeoff. On March 24, a missile soared 3,850 miles into space in one of the North’s most powerful ICBM launches.

February 2022

North Korea Tests ICBM Technology

A ballistic missile fired on Feb. 27

Watching a news report of North Korea firing what appeared to be a ballistic missile, in Seoul.Credit…Yonhap News Agency, via Reuters

A projectile soared from the Sunan district of Pyongyang and flew 186 miles to the east in February. North Korea said the launch was part of its preparations to place a reconnaissance satellite in the Earth’s orbit. But South Korean and American officials said the North was testing a Hwasong-17, its latest-generation ICBM.

January 2022

A New Year Begins With Provocations

An intermediate-range ballistic missile fired on Jan. 30 | Eight cruise or short-range ballistic missiles on four different days | Two “hypersonic” missiles on two days

In a photograph from North Korean state media, Mr. Kim watches a hypersonic missile test in January.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Reuters
A photograph from North Korean state media of a hypersonic missile test.Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Reuters

North Korea began the year with a series of short-range ballistic missile tests, including “hypersonic” missiles and some launched from train cars. On Jan. 27, it launched its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile. The missile was first tested in 2017. This time, the North said it randomly selected one for testing from multiple Hwasong-12s “being produced and deployed” by the North Korean military.

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