North Korea is close to completing long-range missile system, says US

Concern is that an intercontinental ballistic missile could reach US

A TV at Seoul Railway Station, South Korea, shows a file image of North Korea's missile launch on March 5.  AP

North Korea is increasingly testing its intercontinental ballistic missile capability, the US said on Thursday.

It believes a full-scale launch could happen some time soon.

The country has had a series of missile launches this year, including a record number in January.

The US Department of Defence says North Korea conducted two ballistic missile tests on February 26 and March 4.

“The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday.

The concern is that the ICBMs North Korea is testing may be able to reach the US. Washington, along with the UK and UAE, condemned the recent series of tests.

Reuters reported on Thursday that state news agency KCNA said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the expansion of the site where the country tests and launches ICBMs.

In 2017, the US believed North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile.

There are concerns the recent missiles may rival the one seen years ago, but it is not yet known what kind of capability or maximum range the missiles have.

Reuters reported that South Korea joined the US in believing the recent tests failed to reach intercontinental distances.

But the tests have compelled the US to share its intelligence as a warning to its allies and other nations.

“While the DPRK chose not to publicise information on the systems involved in these launches, the United States is revealing this information publicly and sharing it with other allies and partners because we believe that the international community must speak in a united voice to oppose the further development and proliferation of such weapons by the DPRK,” Mr Kirby said.

The Pentagon says the US is still open to diplomacy on the basis of denuclearisation by North Korea, but no such diplomatic efforts have occurred since 2019, under former president Donald Trump's administration.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 1:39 PM