(3rd LD) N. Korea fires two ballistic missiles, one blows up in flight
(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES paras 2-6)
SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired two missiles on Friday in the latest show of force against the ongoing joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, but one appears to have blown up in flight, official sources said Friday.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said one ballistic missile was fired around 5:55 a.m. from the area near Sukchon, in the western part of the country.
The missile, believed to be a mid-range Rodong model, flew about 800 kilometers across North Korea before falling into waters off the country's east coast.
"The missile hit waters within the Japanese Air Defense Identification Zone," the JCS said.
About 22 minutes after the first launch, the South Korean military's radar detected what appeared to be a second missile fired from the same area. But the radar lost track of it at an altitude of 17 km, the military said.
Officials said the second missile may have exploded in the air without reaching its target area.
"An analysis so far indicates it was a missile, but more examination is needed to verify the data," the JCS said.
Military officials here said the first ballistic missile appears to have been launched from a transporter erector launcher, a mobile missile vehicle.
North Korea's previous launch of a mid-range Rodong missile was in March 2014.
With a maximum range of 1,300 km, the Rodong puts all of South Korea and part of Japan within striking distance.
The ballistic missile could carry high explosives or chemical ammunition in its warhead.
South Korea and the United States are set to wrap up one of two massive joint military exercises, which the countries kicked off on March 7.
In protest against the annual drills, which the North condemns as a rehearsal for invasion, the communist nation shot off two short-range missiles into the East Sea on March 10.
"North Korea is highly likely to bring inter-Korean tensions to a crisis-like level through further hardcore provocations," a military official said, adding that the military is keeping close tabs on the situation.