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North’s ICBM could have traveled 10,000 km

Its steep trajectory sent missile to the highest altitude yet reached
Nov 30,2017
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North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) into the East Sea Wednesday morning, reaching the highest altitude the country has ever achieved in a missile test and breaking a more than two-month stretch of behaving itself.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that the projectile, launched at 3:17 a.m. from Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province, in western North Korea, flew nearly 960 kilometers (596 miles) after peaking at an altitude of 4,500 kilometers before landing in waters between the North and Japan.

Had it been fired at a normal angle, the missile could have flown more than 10,000 kilometers, said local military officials, which easily passes the 5,500 kilometer threshold to qualify as an ICBM. It is also long enough to reach the U.S. mainland. The distance between Pyongsong and Los Angeles is 9,550 kilometers.

Robert Manning, spokesman for the U.S. Defense Ministry, said the Pentagon’s initial assessment was that the projectile was an ICBM, but that it didn’t pose a threat to the U.S. or its allies. The Japanese government claimed the missile splashed into its exclusive economic zone.

The South Korean military said the missile appeared to be a version of a long-range Hwasong-14, which North Korea also tested on July 4 and 28. The North has never tested a missile from Pyongsong before, which is about 30 kilometers north of Pyongyang, the capital.

North Korea’s most recent missile test was 76 days earlier on Sept. 15, when it shot a missile over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island. The regime has carried out 15 missile tests this year, including the one on Wednesday, 11 of which were held after left-leaning President Moon Jae-in took office on May 10.

In an English dispatch carried by its official mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang claimed Wednesday that it tested a newly developed Hwasong-15, defining it as an ICBM “tipped with super-large heavy warhead which is capable of striking the whole mainland of the U.S.”

The regime bragged it was the “most powerful ICBM which meets the goal of the completion of the rocket weaponry system development” by the country.

The Hwasong-15, it added, has “much greater advantages in its tactical and technological specifications and technical characteristics” over the Hwasong-14.

Leader Kim Jong-un was said to have personally handed down an order for the test, proudly declaring afterwards that his country has “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”

The missile, after making a 53-minute flight along its preset course, accurately landed in the target waters set in the open sea, the KCNA asserted.

North Korea said the purpose of developing strategic weapons was to defend itself from the “U.S. imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat,” and assured other countries they’d be safe as long as its interests weren’t infringed upon.

In an urgent National Security Council meeting at the Blue House, which began at 6 a.m. and ended 55 minutes later, Moon “strongly condemned” North Korea’s “reckless provocations,” adding that as long as the regime held on to its missile and nuclear development program, countries such as South Korea had no other choice but to increase sanctions and pressure.

Moon stressed that local authorities had been aware of the missile test before Wednesday. The Blue House chief urged the South Korean military to be prepared for containing any North Korean threat based on its ironclad alliance with the United States, and “immediately punish” the regime in case it does carry out a provocation.

In a 20-minute telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump, which began later the same day at 8:30 a.m., Moon admitted that North Korea’s latest missile “improved in efficiency” over the previous versions tested, according to Blue House spokesman Park Soo-hyun.

In response, Trump was said to have mentioned “additional countermeasures” against the North, suggesting to Moon that both countries cooperate in assessing the latest missile test and follow up with further discussions on “specific countermeasures.”

A Blue House official with knowledge of the talks said both sides hadn’t agreed on the form of future discussions, but it could either be Trump and Moon conversing with each other on the telephone again or their national security councils discussing the issue.

The form, according to the official, hinges on the analysis of the missile’s capabilities.

Another Blue House official stressed that the phone conversation was proof that the two leaders “acted fast and cooperatively” to the “change in circumstances,” noting Pyongyang hadn’t carried out a military provocation for 75 days before Wednesday.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said at a press conference hosted by the Kwanhun Club, a group of senior journalists, in central Seoul Wednesday that the North’s missile test made it possible for the South Korean government to consider unilateral sanctions against the regime.

The prime minister said “chances to expect dialogue” with the North were gradually waning, adding Seoul would still talk with Pyongyang if it surrendered its missile and nuclear development program.

North Korea is “racing towards the completion of its ICBM development program,” Lee said. He added that Pyongyang can’t call Wednesday’s test an absolute victory because its missile lost communication with the launch pad shortly after liftoff, which would be deemed a technical failure.

Lee said Seoul knew of the missile test “two to three days” before, and that it’s been sharing intelligence with Washington ever since.

On the request of the U.S., South Korea and Japan, the United Nations Security Council is planning to hold an urgent meeting on Wednesday, New York time, to discuss the launch.

Six minutes after the North Korean missile’s takeoff, South Korea’s air force, navy and army held a joint 21-minute exercise in the East Sea practicing precise strike capabilities, firing a Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile, a Haeseong-2 cruise missile as well as a Spice-2000 air-to-surface missile during the response.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the drill was a show of Seoul’s military “capability and will to accurately attack” the place from which North Korea carried out its provocation, as well as other key facilities.

In preparation for the imminent missile test, South Korea’s military said the U.S. Air Force had mobilized a RC-135S Cobra Ball and E-8 Joint Stars aircraft around the peninsula before the launch, while the South operated its E-737 Peace Eye.

Equipped with an array of optical and electronic sensors, the RC-135S Cobra Ball is meant to collect data on ballistic targets, while the E-8 Joint Stars is a reconnaissance plane that provides ground surveillance to support attack operations.

The E-737 Peace Eye, which a South Korean military official said was the first to detect the North Korean missile launch, has radar that can simultaneously detect as many as 600 targets 250 kilometers away.

Speaking to foreign correspondents in Seoul Tuesday, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said the South Korean government couldn’t rule out the possibility that North Korea will master its missile and nuclear development programs next year in time for their 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party, though some experts think the regime needs two to three years more.

Seoul generally believes the regime has a couple of hurdles left, chiefly atmospheric re-entry technology and miniaturization of a nuclear device to be placed atop an ICBM.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]