What was supposed to be a South Korean show of force ended in humiliation on Wednesday as a ballistic missile malfunctioned and crashed near a South Korean city, triggering panic. There were no injuries — beyond those to the military’s own reputation.
According to the Associated Press, citing South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, a short-range missile blew up on an air force base near the coastal city of Gangneung. South Korean authorities said the warhead did not explode.
Video purporting to show the fiery aftermath circulated on social media:
The failed missile launch was part of a broader saber-rattling response to North Korea’s successful launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew over Japanese airspace on Tuesday.
That missile demonstrated a record distance capability for a North Korean missile. It was said to have traveled some 2,800 miles, with analysts saying it has the range to hit the bases on the U.S. territory of Guam.
In their ensuing show-of-force drills, U.S. F-16 and South Korean F-15 fighter jets on Tuesday hit an island target off South Korea’s west coast, using Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs. Wednesday brought surface-to-surface missile launches.
The embarrassment over the misfire was compounded by the South Korean military’s inept handling of the incident, reports AP:
The explosion and subsequent fire panicked and confused residents of the coastal city of Gangneung, who were already uneasy over the increasingly provocative weapons tests by rival North Korea.
Their concern that it could be a North Korean attack only grew as the military and government officials provided no explanation about the explosion for hours.
Posting on Facebook, legislator Kwon Seong-dong, who represents Gangneung, said a “weapons system operated by our blood-like taxpayer money ended up threatening our own people.” He also assailed the military’s prolonged silence: “It was an irresponsible response. They don’t even have an official press release yet.”