North may have attempted missile launches on Liberation DayNorth Korea may have attempted missile launches on Liberation Day, according to intelligence sources.
A 4.3 magnitude earthquake in Rajin, in the far northeastern corner of the country, was detected by U.S. reconnaissance aircraft on the evening of Aug. 16.
“North Korea issued navigation warnings on Aug. 15 and 16,” an intelligence source said, adding that northeastern waters in the East Sea had been designated as the alert area.
Navigation warnings are commonly issued by the North before its military conducts drills involving coastal artillery or test launches of missiles to warn ships passing through the area.
Observers had predicted that North Korea could launch missile provocations to coincide with the start of the joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in the second half of the year.
On Aug. 10 and 11, the North issued consecutive statements by Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and deputy information department director of the Workers' Party, and Kim Yong-chol, head of the party’s Unification Front Department, which criticized the exercises, upping the possibility that the North would respond with a show of force.
The detected quake coincided with a short window of clear weather on the eastern coast of North Korea last weekend, when difficult weather conditions posed an obstacle to a test launch through most of Saturday and Sunday.
North Korean cities on the East Sea experienced several days of rain and periodic lightning strikes over the weekend.
On Monday, the U.S. military simultaneously deployed a Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Star ground surveillance aircraft, which tracks and monitors up to 600 ground targets, and a Boeing RC-135S (Cobra Ball), which monitors trends such as intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
The source said that apart from the seismic event in Rajin, no other suspicious movements on the eastern coastal area were detected.
Despite North Korea’s navigation warnings, there are mixed observations that it possibly failed to launch a missile in the face of adverse weather conditions, or was simply demonstrating its intent and ability to respond to the allied exercises with force.
Missile tests are sensitive to weather conditions such as wind and humidity. Tests become difficult to measure and observe in inclement weather.
If unexpected technical problems are found in the preparation process for missile launch, the test will have to be stopped.
At the same time, the possibility remains that North Korea only pretended to test fire a missile. A South Korean military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “North Korea may have just pretended to launch a missile to watch the response from South Korea and the U.S.”
He added, “We are considering including the possibility of their waging a psychological war.”
BY MICHAEL LEE, PARK YONG-HAN [email@example.com]