Nuclear-armed North Korea conducted two back-to-back tests of a powerful new medium-range missile on Wednesday, with both achieving a significant increase in flight distance over previous failed launches, South Korea’s defence ministry said.

Source: b'People watching lfootage of a launch in April, 2016 | Source: AFP'

Both tests were believed to be of a much-hyped, intermediate-range Musudan missile capable of reaching US bases as far away as Guam.

The US State Department strongly condemned the launches, saying they represented clear violations of UN resolutions banning North Korea from any use of ballistic missile technology.

North Korea had previously carried out four failed Musudan tests this year, all of which either exploded on the mobile launch pad or shortly after take-off.

A successful test would mark a major step forward for a weapons programme that ultimately aspires to develop a proven nuclear strike capability against the US mainland.

Source: b"Japan deployed a PAC-3 Surface to Air Missile LAuncher after N. Korea's launch | Source: AFP"

Musudaan

The Musudan has an estimated range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres. The lower range covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on Guam. First unveiled as an indigenous missile at a military parade in Pyongyang in October 2010, the Musudan has never been fully flight-tested.

International Reaction : US And Japan

US state department spokesman John Kirby said the latest launches would only increase global efforts to counter North Korea’s illicit weapons programme.

“We intend to raise our concerns at the UN to bolster international resolve in holding (North Korea) accountable for these provocative actions,” Kirby said in a statement.

Japanese broadcaster NHK quoted Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as saying such tests “cannot be tolerated”.

A Pentagon statement said the US military had tracked both missiles and determined they “did not pose a threat to North America”.

In recent months, North Korea has claimed a series of technical breakthroughs in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to targets across the continental United States.

Source: b'S. Koreans watching N. Korean missile launch | File Photo | Source: AFP'

The claimed achievements included miniaturising a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile, developing a warhead that can withstand atmospheric re-entry and building a solid-fuel missile engine.

The North also hailed the successful test of an engine specifically designed for an ICBM that would “guarantee” an eventual nuclear strike on the US mainland.

Outside experts have treated a number of the claims with skepticism, while acknowledging that the North has made significant strides in upgrading its nuclear arsenal.

(Feature Image Source: Reuters)