Confirming a Friday report by David Wright, physicist and co-director of the UCS Global Security Program, that the newest North Korean ICBM – which on Friday night flew for 45 minutes, reaching an altitude of up to 3,725 kilometers and traveled just under 1,000 kilometers before landing in Japan waters – can strike half the major metro areas on the continental US, overnight North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un said that “we have demonstrated our ability to fire our intercontinental ballistic rocket at any time and place and that the entire U.S. territory is within our shooting range.”
Quoted by the Korean Central News Agency, he also expressed his “great satisfaction” with the ICBM test – the country’s second after an earlier test on July 4 – which reaffirmed that the missile was able to deliver a “large-sized, heavy nuclear warhead” to the United States. The test was part of the “final verification” of the Hwasong-14 missile’s technical capabilities, including its maximum range.
As a reminder, Wright’s calculations showed that the ICBM could have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation, which if added would increase the range of missiles fired eastward. And, calculating the range of the missile in the direction of some major US cities gives the approximate results in Table 1, which showed 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 while Washington, D.C. is just out of range.
Melissa Hanham, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California, confirmed the findings saying that the test showed North Korea is now capable of hitting U.S. cities such as Denver or Chicago.
Also on Saturday, Kim said the test was a “serious warning” to the US, which has been “meaninglessly blowing its trumpet” in threatening Pyongyang.
In response, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that “as the principal economic enablers of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development program, China and Russia bear unique and special responsibility for this growing threat to regional and global stability.” He added that even as the US seeks a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Tillerson said, “we will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea nor abandon our commitment to our allies and partners in the region.”
In a late Friday statement from the White House, Trump rejected North Korea’s claims that its nuclear program is designed to prevent an attack by the U.S. or other, saying it had the “opposite effect.”
“By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people,” Trump said.
China also responded to the launch, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying in a Saturday statement in the People’s Daily newspaper that Beijing also opposes North Korea’s launch and its violations of Security Council resolutions, while calling on all parties to show restraint.
As Reuters subsequently reproted, Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed “military response options” in a phone call with his South Korean counterpart, his spokesman said in an emailed statement that didn’t elaborate. While Trump hasn’t ruled out a military response, Dunford warned in June that an armed conflict with North Korea would leave the millions of residents in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, to face casualties “unlike anything we’ve seen in 60 or 70 years.” This month he told a security conference in Colorado that “what’s unimaginable to me” is allowing the capability for “a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado.”
Shortly after the North Korean launch, the US and South Korean militaries responded with their own display of military strength, firing live surface-to-surface missiles from rocket launchers, amid renewed tension on the peninsula. Videos posted by the South Korean Ministry of Defense showed the US-made Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, as well as its own Hyunmoo Missile II.
The missiles hit the East Sea on Saturday morning, where North Korea’s ballistic missile is believed to have landed, as part of a live-fire exercise to demonstrate its “precision firing ability,” the US 8th Army said. US Forces in Korea said two missiles were fired from the ATACMS along with two Hyunmoo system missiles. The ATACMS is a Lockheed Martin surface-to-surface missile, with a range of 160km that can be fired from a range of rocket launchers.
The South Korean ministry said it was responding “to provocations of North Korean ballistic missiles.” “The systems can be rapidly employed to provide deep-strike precision capability, enabling the ROK-U.S. Alliance to engage a full array of time-critical targets under all weather conditions,” the 8th Army said on Facebook.
South Korea also said it would deploy four additional THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] anti-missile launchers after North Korea’s test. The THAAD deployment had been delayed after South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered an environmental assessment. Meanwhile, China on Saturday said it had grave concerns about the possibility of more Thaad launchers in South Korea. It called on the U.S. and South Korea to stop the deployment, saying the launchers hurt the strategic balance in the region.