North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Saturday the second flight test this month of an intercontinental ballistic missile shows that his country can hit the U.S. mainland, a view shared by U.S. analysts who say a stretch of the mainland from Los Angeles and Chicago now appears technically within range of North Korean weapons.
Kim, according to the Korean Central News Agency, expressed “great satisfaction” after the Hwasong-14 missile reached a maximum height of 2,314 miles and flew 620 miles before landing in waters off Japan.
The agency, according to the Associated Press, said that the test was aimed at confirming the maximum range and other technical aspects of the missile it says was capable of delivering a “large-sized, heavy nuclear warhead.”
Kim also noted that the rare night launch showed North Korea's ability to mount a surprise attack. The KCNA quoted him as saying the launch reaffirmed the reliability of the country’s ICBM system and an ability to fire at “random regions and locations at random times” with the “entire” U.S. mainland now within range.
The July 4 test indicated that Alaska was technically in range, but not the U.S. mainland.
A U.S. expert, David Wright, co-director and senior scientists for the Union of Concerned Scientists, writes Saturday that Friday's was launch sent the missile on a "very highly lofted trajectory" which narrowed its range, but that one flown on a standard trajectory would have a range of 6,500 miles.
A chart of U.S. cities "shows that Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and that Boston and New York may be just within range," he writes in his blog All Things Nuclear. "Washington, D.C. may be just out of range."
What remains unclear, Wright notes, is the mass of the payload the latest test missile carried. "If it was lighter than the actual warhead the missile would carry, the ranges would be shorter than those estimated above," he says, referring to the chart of vulnerable U.S. cities.
Increasing alarm by Washington and its allies over the Friday night test was underscored by an immediate move by U.S. and South Korean forces to conduct live-fire exercises.
In addition, South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo called for the deployment of strategic U.S. military assets — which usually means stealth bombers and aircraft carriers — as well as additional launchers of an advanced U.S. anti-missile system.
In Japan, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the missile flew for about 45 minutes — about five minutes longer than on July 4 — before landing west of Japan’s island of Hokkaido.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by phone that the second missile test greatly increased the threat from Pyongyang. He said two sides agreed to consider all means necessary to exert the utmost pressure on North Korea. They reiterated calls for new sanctions and to work closely together with South Korea along with efforts by China and Russia.
The agency said that the test confirmed important features of the missile system, such as the proper separation of the warhead and controlling its movement and detonation after atmospheric re-entry.
For his part, Kim said the launch sent a “serious warning” to the United States, which has been “meaninglessly blowing its trumpet” with threats of war and stronger sanctions, the KCNA said.
The North Korean flight data was similar to assessments by the United States, South Korea and Japan.
David Wright, a physicist and co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said 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.
President Trump condemned the missile test as a threat to the world, and rejected Pyongyang's claim that nuclear weapons ensure its security. “In reality, they have the opposite effect,” he said in a statement.
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 U.S. and its allies.
The president has said he will not allow North Korea to obtain an ICBM that can deliver a nuclear warhead. But this week, the U.S. 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.
China, meanwhile, urged its ally North Korea to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions and halt any moves that could escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
In addition, the United Nations Security Council will likely convene an emergency meeting early next week to discuss possible countermeasures, the South Korean news agency Yonyhap reported Saturday, quoting a government source.
In April, Russia vetoed a proposed UNSC resolution that would have condemned Pyongyang for an earlier ballistic missile test.
Washington and its allies have watched with growing concern as Pyongyang has made significant progress toward its goal of having all of the U.S. within range of its missiles to counter what it labels as U.S. 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 leader Kim Jong Un has developed North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs despite several rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country’s economy.
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 U.N. 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 that Dunford met at the Pentagon with the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, to discuss U.S. 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 U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance,” Hicks said, referring to the U.S. defense treaty that obliges the U.S. to defend South Korea.
Abe, too, said Japan would cooperate closely with the U.S., South Korea and other nations to step up pressure on North Korea to halt its missile programs.
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 U.N. 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.