“Fire and Fury 2?”: Q1 2020 Provocations Reminiscent of Q1 2017

Key Findings

  • On March 21, 2020 North Korea launched two projectiles from Sonchon county in North Pyongan province towards the sea between Korea and Japan. The launches took place five minutes apart at 6:45am and 6:50am KST, respectively.  
  • The projectiles traveled a distance of 410km (255 miles) at a maximum altitude of 50km (31 miles) and closely resemble the KN-24 short-range ballistic missile system.
  • This is the third event of Q1 in 2020, which is equivalent to the number of missile provocations in Q1 of 2017 during the “Fire and Fury” era.
Q1 2017
DateTypeEventNumber of ProjectilesProjectile Type
02-12-2017 Missile ProvocationMedium-range Ballistic Missile LaunchOnePukguksong-2
03-06-2017Missile ProvocationMedium-range Ballistic Missile LaunchesFourSCUD-ER or Hwasong-7
03-22-2017Missile ProvocationBallistic Missile LaunchOneType Unknown
Q1 2020
DateTypeEventNumber of ProjectilesProjectile Type
03-02-2020 Missile ProvocationMultiple Launch Rocket System TestsTwoSRBM
03-09-2020Missile ProvocationMultiple Launch Rocket Systems TestThreeShort-range Projectiles
03-21-2020Missile ProvocationShort-range Ballistic Missile LaunchesTwoKN-24
  • In terms of the actual number of projectiles, North Korea has launched more in 2020 thus far than in 2017.
  • These missile tests come at the same time that North Korea revealed President Trump’s letter to Kim Jong-un offering to help North Korea defend against the COVID-19 virus.
  • North Korea claims it has no cases, but this is hard to fathom given that they are physically located between two of the largest outbreaks, there is a unique transmission vector through China, and North Korea has a vulnerable population and non-existent health infrastructure.
  • This remains consistent with our view that there is a slim window for dialogue through Spring 2020 before North Korea goes dark and waits for the results of the U.S. elections in November.
Kim Jong-un observes the launches that took place on March 21, 2020. (Source: KCNA)
Photograph published by North Korean state media of the March 21, 2020 launch. (Source: KCNA)