North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile can strike targets across the US, according to US intelligence officials.
North Korea tested the Hwasong-14 ICBM for the second time July 28, demonstrating previously-unseen offensive capabilities. The missile flew for around 45 minutes, soaring to a maximum altitude of about 2,300 miles and covering a distance of roughly 600 miles.
Expert observers assessed that were the missile fired along a standard trajectory, it would have a range between 6,500 miles and 6,800 miles, putting most of the continental US within striking distance.
The Pentagon has not released information on the range of the missile, but two intelligence officials have confirmed that Pyongyang likely has the ability to launch an attack against cities across the US, escalating the threat, Reuters reports.
The missile test on July 28 performed better than the Hwasong-14 tested earlier last month. Experts and defense officials estimated that the first missile could hit targets at ranges somewhere between 4,600 miles and 5,900 miles, putting Alaska, and possibly Hawaii and parts of the West Coast, in range.
The improved performance might be linked to additional motors.
North Korean state media reported the test “confirmed the performing features of motors whose number has increased to guarantee the maximum range in the active-flight stage as well as the accuracy and reliability of the improved guidance and stability system.”
The missile may have featured second-stage yaw maneuvering motors, according to Ankit Panda, senior editor for The Diplomat. He added the North may have also increased the burn time for its engines.
After two successful ICBM tests, doubts remain about North Korea’s capabilities.
Russia, for instance, has yet to acknowledge North Korea even has an ICBM. After the July 4 test, Moscow claimed the North tested a medium-range ballistic missile, and they said the same after the July 28 test. It is unclear if Russia is being intentionally defiant or whether their outdated radar systems simply failed to detect the second stage of the ICBM.
There are also questions about whether or not North Korea has developed a reliable re-entry vehicle, a key step in the process of fielding ready-for-combat ICBMs and establishing a viable nuclear deterrent. Some also suspect that North Korea has not yet designed a suitable nuclear warhead for its missiles.
Several leading experts, however, assess the North has either already achieved these goals or will do so soon. The Pentagon expects North Korea to be able to field a reliable, nuclear-armed ICBM as early as next year, two years earlier than initially expected.