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Tokyo retracts claim North Korea test-launched two ballistic missiles on 19 October

The Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) has retracted its initial claim that North Korea test-launched two ballistic missiles rather than one on 19 October, saying that a radar system mistook a manmade object in space for a ballistic missile.

The assertion that there had been two launches contradicted not only reports by Pyongyang's state-run media but also analysis by the United States and South Korea, both of which only mentioned a single ballistic missile launch.

The MoD said in a 9 November press release that an advanced warning radar system operated by the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) had detected a manmade object moving through space by accident, and mistakenly determined that it was a missile.

Referring to the launch of the actual missile, the ministry said North Korea had tested on that day a new short-range, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from what appears to have been its Gorae-class diesel-electric ballistic missile submarine (SSB).

The SLBM appears to have been a modified version of North Korea's ground-launched KN-23 (US/South Korean designation) short-range ballistic missile, which Pyongyang has test-fired repeatedly since May 2019 and is similar in design to the Russian Iskander missile. Tokyo said the SLBM flew in an irregular trajectory and conducted ‘pull-up' manoeuvres on terminal approach.

North Korea is known to operate one Gorae-class SSB, which it has used as an experimental testbed rather than a full SSB. This 66.75 m long boat, which was first seen in 2014, has a small rectangular opening containing one missile tube, according to Janes Fighting Ships.

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