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N. Korea's missile could be advanced IRBM: defense minister

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Ministry of Defense on Aug. 29, 2017. (Mainichi)

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Aug. 29 said the missile that North Korea launched earlier that day may have been a "Hwasong-12" intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), the same type that the North fired on May 14.

Onodera added that the latest missile flew on a regular trajectory, unlike the North's recent missiles that followed a "lofted" trajectory. Based on Japanese radar and other data, he said the missile broke into three pieces before falling into the same ocean area. An expert surmises that the missile launch was aimed at "accumulating further experimental data."

Following the May 14 firing of a Hwasong-12 with a range of 5,000 kilometers, Pyongyang additionally launched Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles -- whose range is at least 10,000 kilometers -- on July 4 and 28. All these missiles flew on a lofted trajectory before falling into the Sea of Japan.

In contrast, the Aug. 29 missile reached an altitude of 550 kilometers, traveling roughly 2,700 kilometers on a standard trajectory to cross over the Japanese archipelago. Missiles launched on a lofted trajectory and on a regular course are different in the time it takes before their warheads re-enter the atmosphere and the heat they generate.

According to a South Korean expert, North Korea may have determined that it needed to collect more data through the test-firing of missiles on a regular trajectory in order to improve advanced ballistic missile technologies.

Hideaki Kaneda, former commander of the Maritime Self-Defense Force's Fleet Escort Force and a current director of the Okazaki Institute, said, "We need to carefully analyze the cause of the missile having broken into three in collaboration with the United States and South Korea." He added, "We cannot rule out the possibility that it was part of an initial experiment for a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle, which can target multiple locations with one single missile."

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