People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on March 16, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

SEOUL, South Korea: A North Korean missile fired from its capital region exploded in mid-air in an apparent failed launch on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, amid speculation that the North could soon launch its biggest long-range missile in its most significant provocation in years.

Details of the missile explosion weren’t immediately known. But the launch, the 10th of its kind this year, shows North Korea is determined to press ahead on its push to modernize its weapons arsenal and pressure its rivals into making concessions amid dormant denuclearisation talks.

The North Korean missile blew up while it was flying at an altitude of about 20 kilometres (12.4 miles), a South Korean military official said requesting anonymity because he wasn’t publicly authorized to speak to media on the issue. He said the cause of the explosion wasn’t known.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier said in a statement that the launch made from the Pyongyang region around 9:30am apparently failed. It said South Korean and US intelligence authorities were analyzing details of the launch.

The US Indo-Pacific Command later said that North Korea fired a ballistic missile but didn’t say whether it was a failed launch. A command statement said the launch didn’t pose an immediate threat to US territory and its allies but called on North Korea to refrain from further destabilizing acts.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that a flight of a ballistic missile has not been confirmed and that Tokyo is working with Washington and Seoul to further analyse what happened.

Past failures

Experts say past failures still have moved North Korea closer to its goal of acquiring a viable nuclear arsenal that could threaten the American homeland. Of eight ``Musudan’’ intermediate-range missiles tests in 2016, only one of those launches was seen by outside analysts as successful, which led to debates of whether North Korea’s path toward ICBMs had been cut off.

However, the North in 2017 flew more powerful intermediate-range missiles over Japan and conducted three successful test-flights of ICBMs that demonstrated a potential range to strike deep into the US mainland.

North Korea’s successful satellite launches in 2012 and 2016 — which were viewed by the UN as disguised tests of its long-range missile technology — also followed repeated failures.

The US and South Korean militaries said last week that North Korea had tested an ICBM system in two recent launches, referring to the developmental Hwasong-17 missile that North Korea unveiled during a military parade in October 2020.