July 29, 2017 3:59 am JST  (Updated July 29, 2017 10:44 am JST)

Pyongyang's nighttime missile launch signals growing skill

ICBM flight lasts more than 45 minutes, uses atypical staging site

HIROSHI MINEGISHI, Nikkei staff writer

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits war graves to pay respect to war dead on the 64th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War. (Photo by KCNA via Reuters)

SEOUL -- North Korea fired another missile late Friday, that experts said was capable of hitting Los Angeles and Chicago, one day after the anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War, in a rare nighttime launch seen as a boastful show of improved ballistic capabilities.

The Pentagon said it was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that flew for about 1,000 km (620 miles) and landed about 90 nautical miles (167 km) from Japan's island of Hokkaido. "We assess that this was an ICBM; this is a launch that had been expected," spokesman Jeff Davis said.

North Korea on Saturday confirmed its second test-launch of an ICBM, saying the missile was meant as a "stern warning" for the United States. Its leader Kim Jong Un has observed the second ICBM test, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said, adding the launch demonstrated an ability to conduct a surprise attack on the U.S. mainland. 

Washington and Seoul were on high alert for a launch this week, given the 64th anniversary of the armistice.

Friday's rocket traveled more than 45 minutes, or six plus minutes longer than the July 4 missile. The nighttime launch, a break from the customary dawn firings, is even more unusual because the missile flew from Jagang Province instead of the usual staging area in North Pyongan Province.

Pyongyang appears to be sending the message that it can launch a missile from any location at any time.

State media reported Thursday that Kim visited the cemetery of fallen soldiers to commemorate the end of the Korean War. The article represented the first media report on the leader's state of affairs in half a month.

North Korea celebrates the armistice anniversary as the day of victory in the Korean War. Firing a missile around that occasion underscores the aim of raising the nation's prestige.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimates Pyongyang will be able to deploy ICBMs as soon as next year, according to The Washington Post.

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