North Korea reportedly launched a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in April 2017 that failed a few seconds into flight and came crashing down on a North Korean city.
The Diplomat's Ankit Panda and David Schmerler, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, cited a US government source as saying the missile failed a minute into flight and never went higher than 70 kilometers.
That initial minute of boosted flight propelled the missile 39 kilometers away to Tokchon, a city of about 200,000 people in North Korea's interior, according to Panda and Schmerler's investigation.
Satellite imagery scanned by the authors shows damage to industrial or agricultural buildings near a residential area. The Hwasong-12, with unburned liquid fuel, could still cause a massive explosion even without a warhead, though the authors concluded there were most likely few casualties.
Distance from Pukchang Airfield to the impact point in TokchonGoogle Earth/The Diplomat
The wider threat of failed missile tests
But the fiery crash of a North Korean missile into a populated town demonstrates yet another threat posed by Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
North Korea has twice fired a Hwasong-12 missile over Japan. A similar failure in the launch process could see a large liquid-fueled missile crashing down on a populated Japanese town.
If such an accident were interpreted as a deliberate attack, it could spark a wider conflict.
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Another danger pointed out by The Diplomat comes from North Korea's newly demonstrated ability to carry out surprise tests.
Using mobile missile launchers, which sometimes even have treads like a tank, North Korea showed in 2017 it could launch from virtually anywhere within its borders.
The unpredictability and mobility of North Korea's launches mean the U.S. or its allies would have a hard time preempting such a launch or even knowing where to look for one.
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