Today's D Brief: N. Korea's new ICBM test; US-RoK extend sortie drills; S. Korea missile failure; Russian retreat in Kherson?; And a bit more.

North Korea appears to have launched an ICBM that possibly failed mid-flight, or had its engine shut off early as an altitude control motor test for satellite orbital missions. Or, perhaps more ominously, Pyongyang may have been testing multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle technology, as Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace speculated and explained back in March. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited a military source for that missile failure allegation, which may have occurred during the missile’s second stage engine separation. 

The practice missile began flying at about 7:40 a.m. local, and reached an apogee of about 1,200 miles before falling down into the Pacific Ocean, Seoul’s military said. 

This latest apparent ICBM launch triggered air raid sirens in both South Korea and Japan. (Listen to one from Ishinomaki, Japan, here.) Japanese authorities issued temporary take-shelter orders during the ICBM launch, Voice of America’s William Gallo reported Wednesday evening U.S. east coast time, which was Thursday morning for those in Seoul. The North launched two more small ballistic missiles about an hour later on Thursday morning as well—on top of an estimated 23 other missiles it fired at several different times on Wednesday, setting a new record for single-day missile activity. 

The White House called Pyongyang’s flurry of launches this week “a flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” that “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.” And as usual, it also promised to “take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies.” 

In response to Thursday’s ICBM launch, the U.S. and South Korea extended their joint military exercises taking place this week called Vigilant Storm, which already featured 240 aircraft—including F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Those drills involve “close air support, defensive counter air, and emergency air operations,” and “approximately 1,600 sorties, [which is] the largest number ever for this annual event,” according to the U.S. military, which previewed the exercises in late October. 

North Korea’s reaction to extending Vigilant Storm: “It is a very dangerous and false choice,” state-run KCNA said in a statement. “The U.S. and South Korea will get to know what an irrevocable and awful mistake they made,” it added. 

  • New: North Korea seems to have launched yet another small ballistic missile Thursday evening, Yonhap reported in a related development.

By the way: A South Korean missile interceptor exploded prematurely during a competition on Wednesday, which is “the second known failure of an indigenous ROK missile in as many months,” NK News reports. 

Featured in that mishap: Seoul’s Cheongung missile, and it exploded about 10 seconds after being launched toward the East Sea. The missile traveled about 15 miles in those 10 seconds before it detonated mid-flight—presumably due to wiring connection problems, according to a South Korean military official. 

But there’s more unwelcome news for Seoul: A “PAC2 long-range surface-to-air missile set to be launched [Wednesday] was also found to be faulty,” NK News reported. “The monitoring system for PAC2 showed that there was an error, so the launch was called off.” 

You may recall one of South Korea’s ballistic missiles failed in October, too. In that test, a Hyunmoo-2C intermediate range missile spun off backwards after launch and landed on a military base near a suburb of residential homes. 

From the region: 

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Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1986, the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra Affair broke out into the open with a report from Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa. Ten days later, Reagan addressed the nation about the illegal arms-for-hostages scheme. A congressional inquiry began the following year. 

Russian forces seem to be preparing to retreat from portions of occupied Kherson, particularly from the west bank of Ukraine's Dnipro River, Reuters reported Thursday, citing Russian-installed occupation official Kirill Stremousov—and writing that, “if confirmed, [it] would be a major turning point in the war.”
New and notable nuclear development: Russia said in a rare statement Wednesday that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Some observers saw the release of that document as Vladimir Putin’s second “walk down” in a day Wednesday—following Moscow’s re-entry into the UN-brokered grain deal in the Black Sea. Another observer called the statement, “Imperfect language, but [an] important message.”
Update: 14 million people have been displaced from their homes because of Russia’s invasion, the United Nations said Thursday. (Ukraine’s prewar population was about 44 million.)
Top G7 diplomats are discussing Ukraine and China at a meeting in western Germany on Thursday. The venue chosen—the town hall in Muenster—was reportedly “last used to host an international diplomatic event in 1648, for the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the 30 Years War,” the Associated Press reports, citing senior U.S. officials for that bit of history.
Get better acquainted with a time-tested Russian occupation tactic: Kidnapping local leaders and forcing them to collaborate with invading troops, as the Russians did to Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov. He’s “one of over 50 local leaders who have been held in Russian captivity since the war began on Feb. 24 in an attempt to subdue cities and towns coming under Moscow’s control,” AP reported Thursday from Kyiv. “Ukrainian and Western historians say the tactic is used when invading forces are unable to subjugate the population.”
Also: The U.S. just approved the possible sale of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems to Finland at a price of more than half billion dollars. “The increased national stock is critical to Finland’s defense and deterrence due to the deteriorated security situation in Europe,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement. Details here.
Additional reading: 

And lastly: Breakthrough in the horn of Africa? Two years into a brutal war in Ethiopia, the country’s government and Tigray fighters have agreed to a “permanent cessation of hostilities,” Reuters reported Wednesday. The agreement was signed in the South African capital of Pretoria after about a week of formal peace negotiations.
The war has killed thousands of people and displaced millions, and “has seen abuses documented on both sides,” the Associated Press wrote Thursday in a report detailing the final peace agreement. More than 5.2 million people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, in the northern part of the country, are in “dire need of humanitarian support,” according to the World Health Organization. The peace agreement came as a surprise, and is not the first cease fire in the war, BBC reported. A previous deal held for only a few months before it was breached in August.