North Korea is not only continuing to defy international warnings to stop testing ballistic missiles, it's starting to get pretty good at launching them. Relatively speaking, anyway: Pyongyang launched two intermediate-range Musudan missiles in the direction of Japan on Wednesday, reports the BBC. The first one flopped almost immediately, just like four previous launches. But the second one reached an altitude of about 620 miles before plunging into the sea, raising concern in both South Korea and Japan, reports Reuters. The missile also covered about 250 miles, getting more than halfway to Japan's coast. The BBC notes the missile's range is much further; it's unclear whether it fell short due to failure or was intentionally kept from reaching Japan.
"This is a very important milestone because the previous launches had blown up either very shortly after launch or possibly even right at launch," an analyst at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California tells the Voice of America. "So this is a real sign of progress." Japan's defense chief put it more succinctly: "The threat to Japan is intensifying." South Korea and the US are still assessing the test, but South Korean President Park Geun-hye denounced the "reckless provocation." UN resolutions forbid the North from working on ballistic missile technology, notes the BBC, but the launches suggest that Pyongyang is having little trouble obtaining the technology and the know-how. (Read more North Korea stories.)