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North Korea's missile shot at Japan could be a warmup for a Guam strike

North Korea fired a missile over Japan's Hokkaido province in the early morning hours of August 29, and the early figures coming out from the launch indicate it could have been a warm up for similar action toward the US territory of Guam.


North Korea has expressed vitriolic anger over US and South Korean war games throughout the month of August. It culminated in the announcement of a plan to fire missiles toward Guam, where the US keeps nuclear-capable bombers and some 7,000 military personnel.

The launch August 29 overflew Japan and traveled almost 1,700 miles before crashing down into the sea, hitting a high point of about 340 miles over land. Japan has previously said it would shoot down any missiles headed toward its territory, but this one simply flew over. The missile launch coincides with the completion of Northern Viper, a joint US-Japanese military drill in Hokkaido.

Lance Cpl. Mario Anderson checks on a team member during a live fire training event Aug. 16, 2017 at the live fire range in Hokudaien, Japan, in support of Northern Viper 17. USMC photo by Sgt. Ally Beiswanger.

Specifically, North Korea threatened to fire four Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan into the waters just about 20 miles short of Guam.

Experts contacted by Business Insider said it would be unlikely that North Korea could pull off such a feat with a missile that has only been tested once successfully. Furthermore, doubts remain about North Korea's ability to create a warhead that can survive reentering the Earth's atmosphere.

Based on early estimates, the launch August 29 appears to have used a single Hwasong-12 rocket in a possible confidence-building measure before any possible attempt on Guam.

But even if the launch ends up having been another missile, or not intended to sure up capabilities headed for a shot toward Guam, the violation of Japan's sovereign air space will likely demand a response. And US and Japanese policymakers may look to shoot down further tests if they travel the same route.