How North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test stacks up
Seoul — North Korea said on Wednesday it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), called Hwasong-15, that could reach all of the US mainland.
In a broadcast on state TV, North Korea said the newly developed Hwasong-15 had "much greater advantages in its tactical and technological specifications and technical characteristics" than the Hwasong-14 ICBM it tested twice in July.
Analysts and officials are awaiting the release of photos and video from the launch to identify what differences there may be between the Hwasong-15 and previous North Korean missiles.
The missile, the first test in 75 days, was fired on a steep trajectory and flew for 53 minutes, North Korea said. It reached an altitude of 4,475km and flew 950km, according to the state TV broadcast.
The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said that if those numbers were correct, "then, if flown on a standard trajectory rather than this lofted trajectory, this missile would have a range of more than 13,000km".
That would suggest all of the continental US, including Washington DC and New York, theoretically would be within range of a North Korean missile.
On July 4 North Korea launched its first ICBM, Hwasong-14, which reached an altitude of 2,802km and a range of 933km during a flight of 39 minutes, North Korea’s state media reported.
A second test of the Hwasong-14 on July 28 exhibited improved performance, with the missile flying for about 47 minutes to an altitude of 3,724km and a range of 998km, according to state media.
The second flight showed the missile had a range of more than 10,000km, potentially putting the US West Coast within range, analysts have said.
After Wednesday’s test, Kim declared that with the Hwasong-15 North Korea had "finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force".
International observers, however, said it remained unclear how heavy a payload the missile was carrying, and whether it could carry a large nuclear warhead far enough to strike the US.
It also remains unclear whether the North Koreans have perfected a re-entry vehicle capable of protecting a nuclear warhead during its descent.
North Korea launched the missile from Pyongsong in South Pyongan Province, about 30km north of the capital Pyongyang, the first time a missile was fired from this location.
Unlike many other tests that historically occur in the early mornings, Wednesday’s launch occurred in the middle of the night in Korea, at about 2.28am North Korean time, or 6.17pm GMT on Tuesday.
The location and timing are likely a reflection of Pyongyang’s continuing efforts to test weapons from anywhere and at any time, providing more realistic tests and making it more difficult for other countries to predict and possibly intercept a launch.
"The test is unusual in that it was conducted in the dead of night, perhaps reflecting North Korean concerns about avoiding a US ballistic missile defence intercept," the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies said.
The two ICBM tests in July were launched from Panghyon airfield in North Pyongan Province, and in Mupyong-ni, Chagang Province, respectively.
Other, shorter-range missiles have been launched from a variety of locations as well, including at least two intermediate-range ballistic missiles that flew over Japanese airspace in August and September.
The last of those missiles was launched at Sunan, just north of Pyongyang, from a "transporter erector launcher", a road-mobile vehicle that can make it more difficult to track and target missiles before they are launched.