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Korean military acknowledges ICBM’s range

But officials are still unsure whether North has re-entry technology
Dec 02,2017
South Korea’s military officially acknowledged Friday that the new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) North Korea tested earlier this week was capable of striking targets more than 13,000 kilometers (8,078 miles) away, which places the entire U.S. mainland within range.

The admission came two days after U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, shortly after Hwasong-15’s liftoff, that Pyongyang could now “threaten everywhere in the world.”

But South Korean officials were cautious to say whether Pyongyang had fully mastered its missile development program, as it claimed, mentioning further analysis was needed to determine whether the Hwasong-15 successfully achieved atmospheric re-entry and precision guidance.

Seoul’s assessment was relayed in a parliamentary briefing by the National Defense Committee, including senior military officials and Defense Minister Song Young-moo.

The National Defense Ministry assessed that the Hwasong-15 is a “new type” of ICBM, given the fact that it had a larger first and second stage and used a longer transportable launch pad, while showing unseen features in stage separation, maximum altitude and speed.

The latest missile had a “successful flight” after it lifted off from Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province, in western North Korea, at 3:17 a.m. last Wednesday, traveling nearly 950 kilometers after peaking at an altitude of 4,475 kilometers before landing in waters between the North and Japan, said the military.

It was the highest a North Korean missile has ever reached. Compared to the Hwasong-14 ICBM, which North Korea tested twice last July, the Hwasong-15 was 2 meters (6.5 feet) longer and used a transporter erector launcher longer by the same length.

Its first stage, which is closer to the launch pad, put together two main engines, whereas the Hwasong-14 used only one. The second stage of the Hwasong-15 was three to four times larger than that of the Hwasong-14, military officials added.

Despite North Korea’s missile advancement, Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean cooperation, said Friday it still has not thought Pyongyang crossed the “red line” because the regime has yet to prove it overcame the last remaining hurdles of atmospheric re-entry and precision guidance.

The ministry’s deputy spokeswoman, Lee Yoo-jin, said the South Korean government expected Pyongyang to refrain from carrying out any additional provocations for the time being, unless some sort of a “sudden change” occurs within the regime, or an external matter affects it.

In regards to the North Korean soldier who defected to the South by crossing the Joint Security Area on Nov. 13, sustaining five gunshot wounds in the process, Defense Minister Song said at the parliamentary briefing that the soldier was preparing to be transferred to a military hospital upon recovery.

His hospital fees will be covered by the National Intelligence Service, said Song, which will use a part of its budget set aside for helping North Korean defectors.

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