Ballistic Missile Failure Caused Explosion At South Korean Airbase (Updated)

The office of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff has confirmed that a Hyunmoo-2 short-range ballistic missile launch failed at a base in the east coast city of Gangneung late on Oct. 4, according to a report from NK News. The South Korean military said there were no casualties from the incident, which caused a large fire.

“The failed launch came during combined US-ROK surface-to-surface missile drills conducted in response to North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile test over Japan earlier Tuesday,” a statement from what is officially called the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) Joint Chiefs of Staff said, according to NK News. “The US and ROK each successfully fired 2 ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile System short-range ballistic missiles] at targets in the sea.”

The Yonhap News Agency reported “No casualties due to abnormal fall of Hyunmoo missile,” without citing any sources in its one-sentence story.

The drills were conducted in response to North Korea launching a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years. The US Army and the South Korean Armed Forces fired a similar barrage of missiles after a similarly provocative North Korean missile launch over Japan in 2017, including ATACMS and one Hyunmoo-2A missile respectively from a beachfront site. The ATACMS can carry a 500-pound warhead to targets approximately 186 miles away. Though the South Koreans are tight-lipped on its exact capabilities, the Hyunmoo-2A reportedly has similar specifications. The same wheeled launcher can also fire the longer-range -2B and -2C variants. It is unclear which variant blew up.

A South Korean short-range ballistic missile being fired on October 4th, 2022 in response to North Korea’s launch of an IRBM over Japan. (South Korean Government) ROK JCS

Earlier in the day, videos had emerged on social media that appeared to show a fire or explosion at the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) Gangneung Air Base. The base is home to the ROKAF’s 18th Fighter Wing which is equipped with F-5E/F Tiger IIs and is located about 60 miles from the North Korean border. The air station is right on the water and has open spaces that are well suited to launching ballistic missiles.

Its importance lies primarily in its close proximity to the East Sea, making launching from here on combat air patrols beneficial for reaching the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone.

The Republic of Korea Air Force Gangneung Air Base is only about 60 miles from the border with North Korea. (Google Earth image)
Gangneung Air Base. (Google Earth)

The base is set to be equipped with South Korea’s locally-developed and manufactured KF-21 fighter once it comes online operationally towards the end of the decade.

We will update this post with more information if it comes available.

Contact the author:

Update 11:15 PM EST:

The Associated Press confirmed that “a South Korean ballistic missile malfunctioned and crashed into the ground early Wednesday during a live-fire drill with the United States” caused no injuries.

But the malfunction and resulting explosions panicked  “residents of a coastal city already uneasy over increasingly provocative weapons tests by rival North Korea.”

Hearing the blasts and seeing the fire led many in Gangneung “to believe it could be a North Korean attack. The tension increased “as the military and government officials provided no explanation about the explosion for hours.”

“The military said it was investigating what caused the ‘abnormal flight’ of a missile that is a key weapon in South Korea’s preemptive and retaliatory strike strategies against the North.”

Update 10:27 AM EST Wed. Oct. 5

When asked by The War Zone when the Pentagon found out about the missile mishap, spokesman John Supple said it was essentially as it happened.

“Our understanding is that US soldiers were [nearby] (although not involved), so in terms of when we were informed, essentially real time,” he said in an email to The War Zone Wednesday morning. “It’s under investigation by the ROK military at this time, so we will not say anything that gets ahead of that investigation.”

When asked for additional details about how many troops, from what units and why they were there, Supple deferred comment to U.S. Forces Korea headquarters. We reached out to them and will update this further with any additional details they provide.

Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.