PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea on Friday test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile, which flew longer and higher than the first according to its wary neighbors, leading analysts to conclude that a wide swath of the US, including Los Angeles and Chicago, is now within range of Pyongyang’s weapons.
Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the missile, launched late Friday night, flew for about 45 minutes — about five minutes longer than the ICBM North Korea test-fired on July 4. The missile was launched on very high trajectory, which limited the distance it traveled, and landed west of Japan’s island of Hokkaido.
“We assess that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, as had been expected,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in Washington.
Analysts had estimated that the North’s first ICBM could have reached Alaska, and said Friday that the latest missile appeared to extend that range significantly.
David Wright, a physicist and co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in Washington that if reports of the missile’s maximum altitude and flight time are correct, it would have a theoretical range of at least 10,400 kilometers (about 6,500 miles). That means it could have reached Los Angeles, Denver or Chicago, depending on variables such as the size and weight of the warhead that would be carried atop such a missile in an actual attack.
Bruce Klingner, a Korean and Japanese affairs specialist at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, said, “It now appears that a significant portion of the continental United States is within range” of North Korean missiles.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the latest test confirmed all the US mainland was within striking range, state media reported Saturday.
Kim said Friday’s test demonstrated the North’s ability to launch “at any place and time,” the Korean Central News Agency reported, adding “the leader said proudly the test also confirmed all the US mainland is within our striking range.”
“Dear Leader Kim Jong Un expressed great satisfaction with the perfectly successful test and praised its developers,” KCNA said.
The report said the test confirmed the missile’s nuclear detonation control mechanism operated normally and that the warhead could endure the intense heat of re-entering the atmosphere.
President Donald Trump issued a statement condemning the missile test as a threat to the world, and rejecting North Korea’s claim that nuclear weapons ensure its security. “In reality, they have the opposite effect,” he said.
Trump said the weapons and tests “further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people.” He vowed to “take all necessary steps” to ensure the security of the US and its allies.
The US and South Korea conducted joint live-fire exercises soon after the ICBM test. The US 8th Army said Saturday’s training event utilizing the Army Tactical Missile System and South Korea’s Hyunmoo Missile II was conducted to demonstrate their “precision firing capability” and “exercise assets countering North Korea’s missile launch.”
Washington and its allies have watched with growing concern as Pyongyang has made significant progress toward its goal of having all of the US within range of its missiles to counter what it labels as US aggression. There are other hurdles, including building nuclear warheads to fit on those missiles and ensuring reliability. But many analysts have been surprised by how quickly Kim has developed North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs despite several rounds of UN Security Council sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country’s economy.
Trump has said he will not allow North Korea to obtain an ICBM that can deliver a nuclear warhead. But this week, the Defense Intelligence Agency reportedly concluded that the North will have a reliable ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear weapon as early as next year, in an assessment that trimmed two years from the agency’s earlier estimate.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the launch a “serious and real threat” to the country’s security.
Suga, the Japanese spokesman, said Japan has lodged a strong protest with North Korea. “North Korea’s repeated provocative acts absolutely cannot be accepted,” he said.
The French Foreign Ministry condemned the launch and called for “strong and additional sanctions” by the United Nations and European Union. “Only maximal diplomatic pressure might bring North Korea to the negotiating table,” the ministry said in a statement.
“This is a 4G threat: global, grave, given and growing,” France’s UN Ambassador Francois Delattre told The Associated Press. That’s why we call for a firm and quick reaction including the adoption of strong additional sanctions by the Security Council.”
A spokesman for Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday that Dunford met at the Pentagon with the commander of US forces in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, to discuss US military options in light of North Korea’s missile test.
The spokesman, Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, said Dunford and Harris placed a phone call to Dunford’s South Korean counterpart, Gen. Lee Sun Jin. Dunford and Harris “expressed the ironclad commitment to the US-Republic of Korea alliance,” Hicks said, referring to the US defense treaty that obliges the US to defend South Korea.
Prime Minister Abe said Japan would cooperate closely with the US, South Korea and other nations to step up pressure on North Korea to halt its missile programs.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile reached an estimated height of 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) before landing at sea about 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) away. It appeared to be more advanced than the ICBM North Korea previously launched, it said.
The “Hwasong 14” ICBM test-fired earlier this month was also launched at a very steep angle, a technique called lofting, and reached a height of more than 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) before splashing down in the ocean 930 kilometers (580 miles) away. Analysts said that missile could be capable of reaching most of Alaska or possibly Hawaii if fired in an attacking trajectory.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile was launched from North Korea’s northern Jagang province near the border with China. President Moon Jae-in presided over an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, which called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and stronger sanctions on North Korea.
July 27 is a major national holiday in North Korea called Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War Day, marking the day when the armistice was signed ending the 1950-53 Korean War. That armistice is yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula technically in a state of war.
Late night launches are rare. North Korea usually conducts its missile and underground nuclear tests in the morning. It’s likely the North launched the missile at night and from the remote province of Jagang to demonstrate its operational versatility. To have a real deterrent, it’s important for North Korea to prove it can launch whenever and wherever it chooses, making it harder for foreign military observers trying to detect their activities ahead of time.