North Korea has fired a ballistic missile, the US military has now confirmed.
It is not clear how far it went or whether it flew over Japan as others have done earlier this year.
The missile was launched eastward from Pyongsong in North Korea’s South Pyongan Province in the middle of the night local time, according to a statement issued by the South Korean Military’s joint chiefs of staff today.
The news was confirmed by a US Government source, reports Reuters.
South Korean and American officials are currently working together to determine the missile’s trajectory.
This is the first missile launched since one was fired across Japan and into the Pacific Ocean on September 15.
Officials in Seoul said a rocket-tracking radar was turned on at a missile base in the North of the region yesterday followed by a large amount of radio chatter, the Yonhap news agency reported.
Tokyo and Washington were also placed on alert after radio signals were picked up, with one Japanese official telling the Kyodo news agency that a test could take place ‘within the next few days.’
Cho Myoung-gyon, South Korea’s unification minister, confirmed the activity at an event in Seoul today as he warned that Kim Jong Un may complete his nuclear programme much sooner than previously thought.
Mr Cho said there had been ‘noteworthy activity in the North recently’, but said the world would have to ‘wait and see whether it leads to an actual missile test’.
Speaking about Kim’s efforts to develop a viable long-range nuclear weapon, he added: ‘Experts think North Korea will take two to three more years but they are developing their nuclear capabilities faster than expected.
‘We cannot rule out the possibility Pyongyang may declare the completion of their nuclear programme in a year.’
Japan said the latest signals from North Korea might have come to nothing, saying they could have been from military exercises which the North routinely carries out each winter.
Cho said the frequency of North Korean activity tends to decline noticeably during the winter.
‘If it launched a provocation, North Korea has to put its military on alert, but most of its troops are needed for manual labour for preparation of winter,’ he said.
Other reasons behind the lull could be that Pyongyang simply needs more time to advance its missile programme such as perfecting its re-entry technology, Cho said, or the North Korean leader could be focusing on boosting the economy.
Kim has already carried out a record 15 missile tests this year, including two which were fired over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
The tests also confirmed that North Korea has developed a functioning ICBM, a key step toward creating a nuke that can strike mainland America.
News of another launch would come as a blow to North Korea’s opponents who had hoped that increased sanctions were at least slowing the country’s progress.
After a flurry of missile tests over the summer, Kim last fired a weapon on September 15, despite widely-anticipated launches in October around Labor Day in the US and the Chinese 19th Party Congress.