Home » Latest North Korea long-range missile had potential to reach US mainland, Japan says

Latest North Korea long-range missile had potential to reach US mainland, Japan says

by Mahmmod Shar

By Gawon Bae, Junko Ogura, Brad Lendon and Rhea Mogul

Seoul, South Korea CNN —  North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday, the second missile test by the Kim Jong Un regime in two days. Japan said it had the potential range to reach the US mainland.

The ICBM was launched around 10:15 a.m. local time from the Sunan area of the North Korean capital Pyongyang, and flew about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) east, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The US said it was a “brazen” violation of UN resolutions.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said it likely fell in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), about 210 kilometers (130 miles) west of the Japanese island of Oshima Oshima, according to the Japan Coast Guard. It did not fly over Japan.

“North Korea is continuing to carry out provocative actions at frequency never seen before,” Kishida told reporters Friday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. “I want to restate that we cannot accept such actions.”

The Japanese government will continue to collect and analyze information and provide prompt updates to the public, he said. So far, there have been no reports of damage to vessels at sea, Kishida added.

The ICBM reached an altitude of about 6,100 kilometers (3,790 miles) at Mach 22, or 22 times the speed of sound, according to the JCS, which said details were being analyzed by intelligence authorities in South Korea and the US.

Yasukazu Hamada, the defense minister of Japan, claimed it might even get to the US mainland. According to calculations based on the flight distance of this ICBM, the ballistic missile of this class that was launched this time could have a range of over 15,000 km, according to a statement from Hamada. The US mainland would be included in the range, depending on the weight of the warhead.

It is not the first time North Korea has fired off an ICBM that analysts and officials have determined has the potential to reach the US.

According to a report from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) at the time, Pyongyang’s missile test on March 24 recorded the highest altitude and longest duration of any North Korean missile ever tested, and Friday’s missile was about 100 kilometers shorter in altitude and distance. According to KCNA, that missile traveled 1,090 kilometers (681 miles) and reached an altitude of 6,248.5 kilometers (3,905 miles).

And in 2017, James Mattis, who was then the US defense secretary, claimed that a North Korean missile launch that year showed it could hit “everything in the world.”

In an unexpected media briefing on Friday morning, Japanese, South Korean, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian leaders joined US Vice President Kamala Harris outside the APEC summit to denounce the launch.

I’ve asked these allies and partners to unite and condemn North Korea’s launch of a long-range ballistic missile, she said. “I’ve also invited them to participate so that we can discuss the next steps as partners and allies. The most recent behavior by North Korea is a flagrant violation of the many UN Security resolutions. It undermines regional security and unnecessarily intensifies tensions.

The missile’s long range and ability to reach the US mainland led a senior administration official to describe it as “further escalation.”

“Underscored by the meeting that was held today, I think there’s a growing global concern about North Korean tests precisely because it is developing missiles that can hit many, many countries around the world, including the United States,” the senior administration official said. “So yes, the vice president was deeply concerned. And that was one of the reasons she wanted to call this group together and join together in condemning this actions.”

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Friday also ordered the “active execution” of strengthened extended deterrence measures against North Korea.

The President said Seoul will strengthen its alliance with Washington, and bolster its defense posture and cooperation over security with the US and Japan.

“The government will not tolerate North Korea’s provocations,” his office said in a statement. “The government has overwhelming response capability and willingness to immediately react to any North Korean provocations, so North Korea should not misjudge this.”

It added that North Korea cannot gain anything through continuous provocations, while warning that sanctions against the North will only be strengthened, resulting in Pyongyang’s further international isolation.

Testing missile range

Calling the launch a “significant provocation and a serious act of threat,” the JCS warned the North of violating the UN Security Council’s resolution and urged it to stop immediately.

The Misawa Air Base issued a shelter in place alert after the firing of the missile, according to US Air Force Col. Greg Hignite, director of public affairs for US Forces Japan. It has now been lifted and the US military is still analyzing the flight path, he said.

US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the missile launch and his national security team will “continue close consultations with Allies and partners,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in statement Friday.

“The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions and instead choose diplomatic engagement,” Watson said. “The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies.”

Friday’s launch comes one day after Pyongyang fired a short-range ballistic missile into the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, and issued a stern warning to the United States of a “fiercer military counteraction” to its tighter defense ties with South Korea and Japan.

It’s the second suspected test launch of an ICBM this month – an earlier missile fired on November 3 appeared to have failed, a South Korean government source told CNN at the time.

Increased missile tests

The aggressive acceleration in weapons testing and rhetoric has sparked alarm in the region, with the US, South Korea and Japan responding with missile launches and joint military exercises.

Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of International Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said North Korea is “trying to disrupt international cooperation against it by escalating military tensions and suggesting it has the capability of holding American cities at risk of nuclear attack.”

North Korea has carried out missile tests on 34 days this year, sometimes firing multiple missiles in a single day, according to a CNN count. The tally includes both cruise and ballistic missiles, with the latter making up the majority of North Korean test this year.

There are substantial differences between these two types of missiles.

A ballistic missile is launched with a rocket and travels outside Earth’s atmosphere, gliding in space before it re-enters the atmosphere and descends, powered only by gravity to its target.

A cruise missile is powered by a jet engine, stays inside Earth’s atmosphere during its flight and is maneuverable with control surfaces similar to an airplane’s.

Ankit Panda, senior fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that while he wouldn’t see Friday’s presumed ICBM launch “as a message, per se,” it can be viewed as part of North Korea’s “process of developing capabilities Kim has identified as essential for the modernization of their nuclear forces.”

The US and international observers have been warning for months that North Korea appears to be preparing for an underground nuclear test, with satellite imagery showing activity at the nuclear test site. Such a test would be the hermit nation’s first in five years.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Center for Non-proliferation Studies, said the ICBM test was designed to validate parts of North Korea’s missile program, something that Kim Jong Un has vowed to do this year.

The recent short-range tests “are exercises for frontline artillery units practicing preemptive nuclear strikes,” Lewis said.

He dismissed any political or negotiating message from the tests.

“I wouldn’t think about these tests as primarily signaling. North Korea isn’t interested talking right now,” Lewis said.

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