North Korea missile test launch shows it can hit US cities

SEOUL, 29 July 2017: 

North Korea today confirmed its second test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) overnight – saying the missile was meant as a “stern warning” for the US, its state news agency said.

The ICBM, which aimed for “maximum distance”, flew for 47 minutes and 12 seconds while reaching a maximum altitude of 3,724.9km, the North said.

The missile flew 998km while successfully reaffirming re-entry capabilities of the rocket, it added.

The test was ordered by the North’s leader Kim Jong Un, who was cited as saying the isolated state’s weapons programme is an invaluable asset that cannot be taken back or replaced.

Experts said the latest missile test showed iy was capable of hitting Los Angeles and other US cities – and the US and South Korea responded by staging a joint missile exercise.

North Korean president Kim said the missile showed all of the US was within striking distance but US authorities characterised that as an exaggeration.

The administration of US president Donald Trump, which has branded North Korea the “most urgent and dangerous threat to peace,” condemned the launch as reckless.

“By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people,” Trump said in a statement. “The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region.”

South Korean defence minister Song Young-moo said at a news conference today Seoul would prepare independent measures to curb the nuclear threat from the North.

“This ballistic missile launch by North Korea is a serious provocation that not only clearly violates the UN Security Council’s numerous resolutions but also threatens the safety of the Korean peninsula and world peace.

“The joint governments of South Korea and the United States will firmly punish North Korea for its missile provocation.”

He said steps would be taken to hasten the temporary deployment of THAAD anti-missile units from the US.

The unusual late-night launch added to exasperation in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo over Pyongyang’s continuing development of nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

The North Korean military had already raised alarms early this month with its first ICBM launch.

The Trump administration has said that all options are on the table, including military ones, however it has also made clear that diplomacy and sanctions are its preferred course.

Following a meeting of South Korea’s National Security Council, South Korean president Moon Jae-in said he wanted the UN Security Council to discuss new and stronger sanctions against the North, the presidential Blue House said.

Later the US and South Korea conducted a live-fire ballistic missile exercise in a display of firepower in response to the missile launch, the US military said. The two allies had staged a similar exercise after the North Korean test earlier in the month.

The launch from North Korea’s northern Jangang province took place at 11:41pm, an official at South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile flew for about 45 minutes before apparently landing in the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Japanese broadcaster NHK, citing a military official, said the missile reached an altitude of more than 3,000km.

The South Korean military said the missile was believed to be an ICBM-class, flying more than 1,000km and reaching an altitude of 3,700km. In Washington, the Pentagon also said it had assessed that the missile was an ICBM.

US officials said the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon spy agency, has determined that North Korea will be able to field a reliable nuclear-capable ICBM by next year, earlier than previously thought.

Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies said the launch showed Los Angeles was within range of a North Korean missile, with Chicago, New York and Washington, just out of reach.

“They may not have demonstrated the full range. The computer models suggest it can hit all of those targets.”

The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said its calculations showed the missile could have been capable of going as far into the US as Denver and Chicago.

Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the window for a diplomatic solution with North Korea “is closing rapidly.”

“The key here is that North Korea has a second successful test in less than one month,” he said. “If this trend holds, they could establish an acceptably reliable ICBM before year’s end.”

John Schilling, an aerospace expert and a contributor to 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring website, said the improved performance over the previous test could have been the result of a lighter payload as part of an effort to demonstrate that the missile could hit the US capital.

Los Angeles would be protected by the US missile defence network, which includes four ground-based interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force base, 150 miles north of the city, and a second battery of 32 missiles in Alaska.

During a test on May 31 the missile defense system shot down an incoming ICBM missile aimed at the US mainland and a Pentagon spokesman said the military had “confidence in our ability to defend against the limited threat.”

Other authorities say the US may not be able to seal itself off entirely from a North Korean ICBM attack.

Trump spoke with Abe and Chinese president Xi Jinping about North Korea’s nuclear arsenal this month and has become frustrated that China has not reined in its ally Pyongyang.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said the overnight launch had been expected and took place from Mupyong-ni, an arms plant in northern North Korea. It came a day after the US Senate approved a package of sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres condemned the launch of a “ballistic missile of possible intercontinental range,” his spokesman said.

A Russian Defence Ministry official said Moscow’s data indicated the launch was only of a medium-range ballistic missile, Russian news agency Tass reported.

Diplomats say China and Russia only view a long-range missile test or nuclear weapon test as a trigger for further possible UN sanctions.

The data on the trajectory indicate the missile was fired at a sharply lofted angle but packed more power than the missile launched on July 4 that US and South Korean officials said was an ICBM, potentially capable of hitting the US mainland.

US intelligence officials say that even if North Korea develops a reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM, which some say it remains several steps short of doing, the weapon would be almost useless except to deter the conventional attacks that Kim fears.

“Kim is determined to secure international recognition of the North as a nuclear armed state, for the purposes of security, prestige, and political legitimacy,” the National Intelligence Council’s January Global Trends report said.

– Reuters

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