Japan has warned North Korean missiles pose “a serious threat” after the country carried out new tests in defiance of international sanctions.
North Korea launched two missiles within hours of each other, with one flying about 400kilomiters and reaching an altitude of 1,000 kilometers.
A confirmed successful test would mark a step forward for North Korea after four failed launches in recent months.
South Korea, the US and Nato have also expressed alarm over the latest tests.
Both launches are believed to have been intermediate-range Musudan missiles, whose range of about 3,000km is enough to hit South Korea, Japan and the US territory of Guam in the Western Pacific
A suspected first launch failed, South Korean officials said, travelling about 150 kilomiters before landing in the sea.
But the second showed what Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani called “some capability”.
“I believe the missiles are a serious threat to our country,” he said.
North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons, is banned by UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology.
In January it conducted its fourth nuclear test, claiming it as its first use a hydrogen bomb. Shortly after that it launched a satellite, widely seen as a test of long-range missile technology.
This is at least the fifth test of the Musudan medium-range missile in the past few months and while most have ended in failure, one of the latest pair fired does seem to have traveled at a high trajectory for some 400km.
The Musudan appears to be based on the technology of an old Russian Soviet-era submarine launched missile. It is carried on a wheeled launcher and was first seen in parades back in 2003, though it was never test-fired until April of this year.
Experts believe the weapon is intended to be able to strike US bases on Guam, but North Korea’s ultimate goal is to be able to threaten the continental United States.
North Korea’s progress is mixed and erratic. But it is clearly determined and its missile and associated nuclear weapons programme means that its rocket tests are being carefully watched by Washington.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Seoul and the US were “carryingout an in-depth analysis” of the second missile, and did not say whether they considered it a success.
Several analysts were less cautious though. Jeffrey Lewis, of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies, stated that “That’s a successful test folks.”