North Korea ignored UN resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials say, days after leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the US mainland, the AP reports. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile fired from a site north of Pyongyang flew about 500 miles before crashing off the North's east coast. It was the first medium-range missile launched by the North since it fired two in April 2014, says a South Korean defense official. Earlier this week, North Korea's state media said Kim had ordered tests soon of a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying warheads.
A military expert at the South's Konyang University says it's likely that Friday's launch was a test of a re-entry vehicle mounted on Pyongyang's purported Rodong missile. The North Korean missile fired may not be a Rodong but a long-range missile whose launch angle was altered so that it didn't fly its full range, says a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He says the missile may have carried an empty warhead, which contains trigger devices but lacks plutonium or uranium, to see if it can survive the fiery re-entry and detonate at the right time. Japan denounced the launch and lodged a formal diplomatic protest, warning that it will take "all necessary measures" to defend itself, reports Reuters. (Pyongyang claims it could wipe out Manhattan.)