Japan probes suspected North Korean rocket nose cone amid growing missile concerns


TOKYO, June 23 (Reuters) - Japan on Thursday began to examine the suspected nose cone of a North Korean rocket that washed up on a Japanese beach hoping to glean information on the reclusive state's ballistic missile program a day after it test-launched two more missiles.

The red, white and blue item, believed to be half of the nose cone designed to protect the rocket's payload, was found on a beach in western Japan last Thursday and is suspected to come from a long-range, three-stage rocket fired by North Korea on Feb 7 that flew over Japan's southwest Okinawa island chain.

South Korean authorities recovered the other half.

"We will analyze the materials and the level of technology used," a Japanese Ministry of Defence official said after the part was delivered by truck to the ministry.

The pockmarked 75 kg (165 lb) part, almost two meters long and over a meter wide, lay on a blanket and blue tarpaulin in a forecourt at the ministry.

The February launch, which North Korea said put a satellite into orbit hundreds of kilometers above Earth, came just weeks after Pyongyang carried out a nuclear bomb test, both in defiance of U.N. resolutions and sanctions.

Concern that North Korea is getting closer to perfecting its ballistic missile technology heightened on Wednesday after it fired what appeared to be two intermediate range ballistic missiles.

North Korean missile reaches halfway to Japan
North Korean missile reaches halfway to Japan

While the first was deemed a failure, the second rocket climbed to more than 1,000 km before plunging into the Sea of Japan 400 km down range from the launch sight.

"For Japan, it raises deep concern over our national security," Japan's top military commander, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, said on Thursday in Tokyo.

The next step for Pyongyang could be to miniaturize its nuclear bomb technology into a warhead that fits on the missile.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said after supervising Wednesday's launches that the country now had the capability to attack U.S. interests in the Pacific, official media reported. (Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Originally published