S. Korean missile launched as show of force to N. Korea backfires, crashes

Posted on : 2022-10-06 17:05 KST Modified on : 2022-10-06 17:05 KST
The military reported no military or civilian casualties due to the crash of a Hyunmoo-2 missile in Gangneung
This photo shows fire and smoke in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on the night of Oct. 4, when a missile fired by the South Korean military crashed in a base there. (still from social media)
This photo shows fire and smoke in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on the night of Oct. 4, when a missile fired by the South Korean military crashed in a base there. (still from social media)

A South Korean surface-to-surface missile fired during joint drills by South Korean and US militaries on Tuesday in response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) crashed after an abnormal flight shortly following its launch. Though anxieties ran high among nearby residents due to the flames and boom caused by the falling missile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff proceeded to fire four more missiles within the following hour and 50 minutes without explaining the circumstances of the accident.

Meanwhile, the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), which left South Korean waters after completing a joint exercise with South Korea last month, was scheduled to re-enter the East Sea and hold another South Korea-US-Japan joint exercise starting on Thursday, adding to rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

On Wednesday, a Joint Chiefs official explained, “A missile fired from a Gangneung Air Force base toward the East Sea at 11 pm on Tuesday crashed following an abnormal flight shortly after launch,” adding, “The crashed missile landed on a military golf course.”

That day, the South Korean and US militaries were conducting joint surface-to-surface missile tests using Korean Hyunmoo missiles and American ATACMS missiles in response to North Korea’s IRBM launch that morning. The missile that crashed was revealed to be a Korean Hyunmoo-2C missile.

A Joint Chiefs official explained, “We originally planned to launch the missile toward the East Sea, but immediately after the launch, it began to fly abnormally toward the airfield behind the firing range,” adding, “The missile’s warhead was found 1 kilometer behind the firing range, and the propellant, which allows the missile to fly, was discovered 400 meters behind the warhead.”

The military reported no military or civilian casualties due to the missile crash. However, considering that the propellant was found only 700 meters north of a private dwelling, a major accident was narrowly avoided.

“The missile that crashed went through a pre-launch visual inspection, inspection of its various firing systems, and an overall inspection of shooting procedures before firing,” said a military official, who added, “We have decided to jointly analyze the cause of the crash with the Agency for Defense Development and the manufacturer, as well as conduct a full investigation to see if there are any abnormalities with the ammunition.”

Roughly an hour and 50 minutes after the crash, the South Korean and US militaries launched two additional ATACMS missiles early in the morning Wednesday. The commander of the Army Missile Strategic Command, who was at the scene, reported to the Joint Chiefs that the ATACMS launches would still be possible after confirming that everything was safe following the accident. Regarding the missile launch, the Joint Chiefs evaluated, “This has shown we have the ability and readiness to neutralize the source of any provocation by North Korea, no matter where the provocation originates, while also remaining constantly vigilant.”

However, the military did not inform nearby residents of the accident at any point throughout the night. For this reason, locals in Gangneung complained of feeling alarmed by the bright lights and loud sounds, with photos and videos showing the flames making the rounds online.

A military official commented, “Prior to the launch, surrounding residents were notified as per usual procedure, but we failed to respond properly to the accident,” adding, “We are deeply regretful that residents were this shocked and alarmed.”

Democratic Party lawmakers on the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee, including Kim Byung-joo, held a press conference, calling the operation a “complete failure.”

“It would have been a major disaster if it had fallen into an urban area. Was President Yoon Suk-yeol really given reports on the incident in real time?” they asked.

Kweon Seong-dong, a People Power Party lawmaker representing Gangneung, also made critical remarks on Facebook, saying, “Weapons operated with the precious money of taxpayers almost ended up threatening the people themselves. The first thing we must do is conduct a thorough investigation into the crash.”

Following this launch in which the missile fell the opposite direction that it was supposed to, confidence in the South Korean military, which had sufficient time to prepare — this launch was conducted 15 hours after North Korea had fired a missile of its own — has been greatly damaged. The South Korean military had previously argued that it could overwhelmingly respond to North Korean threats in times of emergency. Regarding this point, a military official, who declined to comment directly, responded, “We have various weapons systems that can be used as strike assets, so North Korea will by no means surpass us militarily.”

Meanwhile, the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan re-entered international waters in the East Sea. It had left after completing joint South Korea-US exercises and joint South Korea-US-Japan anti-submarine warfare exercises from Sept. 26-30. The USS Ronald Reagan will conduct joint drills with the South Korean Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force to detect and track virtual ballistic missiles starting Thursday. It is the first time that South Korea, the US and Japan will hold joint training for two consecutive weeks.

A high-ranking official at the presidential office said, “We have judged that the string of provocations undertaken by North Korea is part of a step-by-step scenario that will eventually lead to a seventh nuclear test. We will further strengthen cooperation between South Korea and the US, as well as between South Korea, the US and Japan, to make North Korea aware that its reckless provocations will come at a cost.”

The official added, “South Korea and the US have decided to closely consult each other and seek ways to drastically strengthen extended deterrence.”

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter; Shin Hyeong-cheol, staff reporter; Kim Hae-jeong, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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