The Hwasong-15 missile could potentially deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the continental United States.
The Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile was launched 2:48 am local time Wednesday morning from a mobile launcher in Pyongsong, 32 kilometers northeast of North Korea’s capital.
About the Hwasong-15 ICBM
Hwasong-15 is an upgrade of Hwasong-14, the missile that North Korea deployed earlier this year on July 4, 2017. According to North Korean officials, their newly developed ICBM can deliver heavy nuclear warheads anywhere in the continental United States.
The ICBM flew for around 54 minutes, reaching 2,796 miles (4,500km) before landing off the west coast of Japan, around 621 miles from its launch site. Reports suggest that the missile test was “highly lofted,” and according to a report by David Wright, a physicist and missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, on a normal trajectory the missile would have a range of 8,078 miles. “Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, DC, and in fact any part of the continental United States,” Wright states. Mr. Wright does note, however, that the same distance and trajectory might not be achievable if North Korea fits the missile with a heavy nuclear warhead. In an effort to lengthen the ICBM’s distance, Wright speculates that North Koreans might have fitted the missile with a light mock warhead or no payload at all, ensuring that the ICBM would travel as far as possible in the test.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claims, however, that the Hwasong-15 ICBM is more sophisticated than any missile previously tested and that it is capable of carrying a “super-large heavy (nuclear) warhead”.
South Korea’s Response to North Korea
In response to North Korea on Wednesday, the South Korean military carried out a “precision missile strike drill” minutes after North Korea’s launch. The drill involved firing a precision missile in the exact location where Pyongyang had launched the Hwasong-15, showing their Northern neighbor that if need be, South Korea can rebuttal their threats.
A spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated after the drill: “Our army, navy and air force jointly fired three missiles (a ground-to-ground missile, a ship-to-ground missile and an air-to-surface missile) and hit the same target around the similar time to show its ability to target North Korea’s origin of provocation.”
The US Response to North Korea’s Latest Launch
President Trump, in response to news of the launch, cautiously stated, “It is a situation that we will handle.”
Earlier this week, President Trump made calls to President Xi of China and President Moon of South Korea to discuss North Korea’s latest missile launch. During the conversation with President Moon, both leaders “reaffirmed their strong condemnation of North Korea’s reckless campaign to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” according to a statement by the White House. During his conversation with President Xi, the White House states that Trump “emphasized the need for China to use all available levers to convince North Korea to end its provocations and return to the path of denuclearization.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for more international pressure on Pyongyang and reaffirmed the US’ commitment “to finding a peaceful path to denuclearization.” However, perhaps hinting at a breaking point for rising tensions, added: “Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now.”
During a press gaggle on board Air Force One en route to St. Louis., White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah addressed questions regarding the latest North Korean missile launch and described the North Korean threat as “very grave.”
“It’s not just a threat to the United States or a threat to the region — or the Korean Peninsula region, but a threat to the entire world and the civilized world,” Shah continued.
But in North Korea, people seem thrilled at the latest turn of events. In a special announcement broadcast on state TV, North Korea declared itself a “complete” nuclear state in the aftermath of the Hwasong-15 launch and photos of leader Kim Jong-un ecstatically embracing military officials while watching the tests in real-time were released by North Korean state media.