SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Friday it had recovered the naval section of a missile used in North Korea’s failed attempt to launch its first military satellite last month.
The announcement came about two weeks after North Korea unsuccessfully attempted to launch its first spy satellite, with the booster and payload pushed out to sea.
The wreckage was recovered Thursday night from the sea floor about 75 meters (246 feet) below sea level off the west coast, the military said, adding that the search is continuing for additional objects from what North Korea described as a space launch vehicle.
South Korea began recovering debris soon after launch, and has already recovered smaller parts. But the operation ran into difficulties in part due to the strong tide and poor visibility, prompting the army to send 10 ships and dozens of deep-sea divers.
Pictures released by the Joint Chiefs of Staff showed a large cylindrical object bearing the sign “Chunma,” which means winged horse in Korean. North Korea said the missile was named Chollima-1.
“The recovered object will be subject to careful analysis in cooperation with the United States,” it said in a statement.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said the debris appears to be the second stage of the missile, and that the military will continue to search for the payload and the third stage.
The newly recovered object appears to be a fuel tank, said Lee Chun-gyun, an honorary researcher at the Institute of Science and Technology Policy in South Korea.
If the military finds an engine attached to the tank, he said, it could help discover some features of North Korea’s new missile engine, which is designed to produce more thrust at higher altitudes.
Chang Yong-kyun, a professor at Korea Aeronautical University, said the wreckage will also provide hints about North Korea’s technical progress on its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities and whether it has purchased any components abroad in possible sanctions violation. .
“This is important data,” Zhang said.
South Korea said Chinese warships had also conducted rescue operations in the waters where the North Korean missile fell, but it was not immediately clear if the Chinese military was continuing its search.
Seoul and Washington condemned the launch, calling it a provocation and a violation of UN Security Council resolutions banning North Korea’s use of ballistic missile technology.
Pyongyang said it was exercising its right to develop space to counter what it called US “aggression”, and vowed to launch another missile soon.
The South Korean Navy said the USS Michigan, a guided-missile submarine, arrived in South Korea on Friday for the first time since 2017 to conduct joint special war games aimed at improving responses to North Korean threats.
The dispatch of the submarine was seen as a show of force against North Korea, which fired two short-range missiles off its east coast on Thursday and warned of an “inevitable” response to military exercises between South Korea and the United States.
(Reporting by Soo Hyang Choi) Additional reporting by Shin Hyunhee and Joo Min Park Editing by Ed Davies and Jerry Doyle
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