What we know about North Korea’s failed missile launch

The North Korean missile that exploded shortly after launch on Saturday was a new kind of single-stage missile that the country had previously tested in another failed launch two weeks ago. The launch failure has fueled speculation about the possibility that the United States may be using cyber technology to interfere with North Korea’s missile program.

According to U.S. officials, the missile fired on Saturday exploded four to five seconds after its launch near a North Korean submarine base in Sinpo along the country’s eastern coast.

“The launch failed very early on, so that makes it harder to know exactly what they were trying to do,” Susan Thornton, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said on Monday. “But I think that our understanding is that it was not one of the longer-range missiles that they were trying to test there; it was something like a medium-range ballistic missile.”

U.S. officials described the missile fired Saturday as a KN-17, a new mobile-launched, single-stage missile that uses liquid fuel. The KN-17 could possibly be either a short or medium-range missile. A full analysis of the missile’s possible maximum range is difficult given that there has not been a successful test so far.

The first test of a KN-17 missile took place on April 4. In that test, the missile traveled about 34 miles over the Sea of Japan. But according to U.S. officials, that test was labeled a failure because the missile began to spin out of control and crashed into the water.

The U.S. intelligence community names North Korean missiles that it identifies with so-called KN-numbers. “KN” stands for North Korea, and the missiles are given corresponding numbers as they are identified. For its part, North Korea has its own names for many of its missiles.

Determining what missiles are fired by North Korea after explosive launch failures can be an imprecise science. For example, officials said that no determination has been made for…

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