According to current affairs magazine The Diplomat, which specializes in the Asia-Pacific region, North Korea accidentally struck one of its own cities with an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) back in April.
Citing satellite imagery and a U.S. government source, The Diplomat reports that on April 28, North Korea fired an Hwasong-12 IRBM that failed shortly after launch and crash-landed and likely exploded in the city of Tokchon, “causing considerable damage to a complex of industrial or agricultural buildings.”
The failed test was reported on at the time, but it was thought that the missile had disintegrated mid-flight. New evidence suggests the missile never flew higher than 44 miles before landing in Tokchon, a town about two hours from the capital city of Pyongyang.
The Diplomat explained what likely happened when the missile met the ground:
“Liquid-fuel missiles like the Hwasong-12, which use a highly volatile combination of hypergolic propellant and oxidizer (meaning that the two agents ignite spontaneously on contact), can produce massive explosions depending on how they fail. In this case, with the missile having survived its descent following an engine failure, it is likely that this facility at Tokchon experienced a large explosion upon impact.”
The Diplomat says it’s likely that few, if any, people lost their lives in the explosion, but given that “the Tokchon facility is located adjacent to what appear to be residential and commercial buildings,” it’s not hard to see how any “slight difference in trajectory could have resulted in an even more catastrophic accident over a populated region.”
The extent of the failure of April’s test also further highlights the dangers inherent to North Korea’s habit of firing missiles over Japanese soil, The Diplomat observes, pointing out that a “fail at the wrong moment” could “come to resemble an attack” on Japan.
The revelation comes amid the ongoing clash of bravado between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In a speech on Monday, Kim warned the U.S. that the “nuclear button is always on my desk.” In response, Trump tweeted that his nuclear button is “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim’s — and that his is actually functional.