North Korea launch over Japan believed to be farthest it has sent a missile

Nuclear-armed North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile farther than ever before on Tuesday, sending it soaring over Japan for the first time in five years, and prompting a warning for residents there to take cover.

U.S., South Korea hold bombing exercise hours after North Korea fired farthest missile

People walk in front of a screen showing a news report about North Korea firing a ballistic missile over Japan, in Tokyo, on Tuesday. (Iseei Kato/Reuters)

Nuclear-armed North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile farther than ever before on Tuesday, sending it soaring over Japan for the first time in five years, and prompting a warning for residents there to take cover.

The Japanese government warned citizens to take cover as the missile appeared to have flown over and past its territory before falling into the Pacific Ocean. It said it did not use any defence measures to destroy the missile, which was the first to fly over or past Japan from North Korea since 2017.

"North Korea's series of actions, including its repeated ballistic missile launches, threatens the peace and security of Japan, the region and the international community, and poses a serious challenge to the entire international community, including Japan," Japan's top government spokesperson, Hirokazu Matsuno, said at a brief news conference.

Speaking to reporters shortly afterward, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called North Korea's actions "barbaric," and that the government would continue to gather and analyze information. Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said it would not rule out any options, including counterattack capabilities, as it looks to strengthen its defences in the face of repeated missile launches from North Korea.

A man speaks into a microphone
Hirokazu Matsuno, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, speaks to reporters at a press conference following a report of a North Korean missile launch, at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Kyodo News/The Associated Press)

It was the latest in an escalating cycle of muscle flexing in the region. North Korea has conducted five launches in the last 10 days, while on Sept. 23, a U.S. aircraft carrier made a port call in South Korea for the first time since 2018.

North Korea accuses the United States and its allies of threatening it with exercises and defence buildups.

'Reckless' test condemned by U.S., allies

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called the test "reckless" and said it would bring a decisive response from his country, its allies and the international community.

Recent tests have drawn relatively muted responses from Washington, which is focused on the war in Ukraine as well as other domestic and foreign crises, but the U.S. military has stepped up displays of force in the region.

In the U.S. and South Korean response to the North's test on Tuesday, a South Korean air force F-15K jet dropped a pair of guided bombs on a target off its west coast, in what South Korea's military called a demonstration of precision strike capability against the source of North Korean provocations.

The United States strongly condemned North Korea's "dangerous and reckless" launch.

A man running
Matsuno, centre, arrives at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Tuesday after South Korea said North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters. (Kyodo News/The Associated Press)

"This action is destabilizing and shows the DPRK's blatant disregard for United Nations Security Council resolutions and international safety norms," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement, using the initials of North Korea's official name.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held phone calls with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts during which they "strongly condemned" the test. The launch violates UN Security Council resolutions, which have imposed sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Range of test a departure

The estimated 4,600-kilometre range was the longest travelled by a North Korean test missile, which are usually "lofted" high into space to avoid flying over neighbouring countries.

Flying a missile such a long distance allows North Korea's scientists to test under more realistic conditions, said Ankit Panda of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Compared to the usual highly lofted trajectory, this allows them to expose a long-range re-entry vehicle to thermal loads and atmospheric re-entry stresses that are more representative of the conditions they'd endure in real-world use," he said.

South Korea said it appeared to have been an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) launched from North Korea's Jagang Province. North Korea has used that province to launch several recent tests, including multiple missiles that it claimed were "hypersonic."

The test prompted East Japan Railway Co. to suspend its train operations in the northern regions, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.