The Japan News/ANN
North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile launch late Friday night reached the highest altitude ever achieved by the nation, possibly enough to threaten the U.S. capital of Washington, according to experts.
Charles Vick, a missile expert in the United States, said this launch of the Hwasong-14 missile shows that North Korea has established its ICBM technology.
The sense of crisis within the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has likely reached newfound heights.
On Saturday, North Korea’s official Korean Central Television aired a video of the launch. The footage shows a camouflaged, movable launch platform emerging from the darkness. The missile on the platform is raised skyward, then sends out a perpendicular jet of flame as it ascends into the night sky.
It seems that Pyongyang placed an emphasis on extending the range of the missile in the latest launch. The Korean Central News Agency reported that this Hwasong-14 had more engines than the first, which was launched July 4.
The missile took a high-angle “lofted trajectory,” which sent it almost 900 kilometers higher than the previous ICBM, reaching a maximum altitude of 3,724.9 kilometers.
The flight time, at 47 minutes 12 seconds, was about eight minutes longer than the previous launch.
Michael Elleman, an analyst with 38 North, a research group that specializes in North Korea based at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, told The Yomiuri Shimbun that an ICBM with a flight time of 45 minutes that reached an altitude of 3,000 kilometers would have a range of 9,000 to 10,000 kilometers if launched at a normal vector.
At 10,000 kilometers, this would put Los Angeles on the U.S. west coast and Denver in the western United States in range. Prof. Kim Dong Yub, of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, also calculated that if launched at a normal angle, the missile would have a range of 9,000 to 10,000 kilometers.
More Nuclear Tests?
However, two major hurdles remain before these missiles would be ready for actual battle: atmospheric reentry technology and warhead miniaturization.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Jeff Davis said that several points needed to be cleared up before the Hwasong-14 launched July 4 could be considered a complete threat, as it had not been verified that North Korea had cleared the hurdles of atmospheric reentry technology and warhead miniaturization.
During an ICBM launch, the warhead needs to be protected from high temperatures that can reach about 7,000 C and extreme vibration when the missile reenters the atmosphere.
If the reentry angle is shallow, the missile could bounce off the atmosphere, so advanced guidance technology is also essential.
KCNA said that in the latest missile launch, “Precise warhead guidance and attitude control were carried out even in the harsh environment of atmospheric reentry, and structural stability was maintained even at high temperature conditions of several thousand degrees.”
However, Prof. Kim pointed out that North Korea “hasn’t provided any evidence.” He believes “their atmospheric reentry technology has not been perfected.”
How the United States assesses the reentry of the latest missile will determine how it views the threat posed by the Hwasong-14.
North Korea has intentionally used lofted trajectories in its missile launches so as to not fire them over Japan.