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North Korea’s ICBM missile flew higher and longer, experts warn it has enough range to reach US  

North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under its leader, Kim Jong Un, in defiance of international sanctions.

world Updated: Nov 29, 2017 08:44 IST
Agencies, Seoul
North Korea,North Korea missile launch,North Korea ballistic missile
A man looks at a street monitor showing a news report about North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo, Japan.(Reuters Photo)

North Korea fired what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that landed close to Japan, with some scientists cautioning that Washington, DC, could now theoretically be within range of Pyongyang’s weapons.

North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under its leader Kim Jong Un in defiance of international sanctions. President Donald Trump has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland United States.

It was the nuclear-armed North’s first ballistic test in more than two months and an initial Pentagon assessment said the ICBM flew about 1,000 kilometres before splashing down within Japan’s maritime Economic Exclusion Zone.

The South Korean military, however, said the missile reached an altitude of around 4,500 km -- more than 10 times the height of the international space station -- and flew 960 km before landing.

Experts said this latest launch — which landed west of the northern end of Honshu, Japan’s largest island — exhibited characteristics that underscored the increasing sophistication of North Korea’s program. The missile flew higher and for a longer duration than two previous intercontinental ballistic missile launches, which flew for 37 minutes on July 4 and for 47 minutes on July 28.

At least one expert said its lofted trajectory suggested an actual range of 13,000 kilometres that would bring every city in the continental United States within range.

It was the North’s third successful ICBM test and David Wright, a co-director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the flight parameters pointed to a “significantly longer” range than previous launches.

A woman walks past a street monitor showing North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in a news report about North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo. (Reuters Photo)

“Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington DC, and in fact any part of the continental United States,” he said.

While Pyongyang has yet to prove its mastery of the re-entry technology required to bring a warhead back through the Earth’s atmosphere, experts say it is on the threshold of developing a working nuclear strike capability against US cities.

Tensions over the North’s weapons programme peaked after Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September and then fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan.

US defence secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday’s test went higher than ever before and was a step toward North Korea building missiles that can “threaten everywhere in the world, basically”.

One study by the Nautilus think-tank in California estimated that around 65,000 civilians would die in South Korean capital, Seoul, alone on the first day of a conventional North Korean attack.

People watch a television broadcast of a news report on North Korea firing what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that landed close to Japan, in Seoul. (Reuters Photo)

Seoul is home to 10 million people and only about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the border -- well within range of Pyongyang’s artillery.

First Published: Nov 29, 2017 08:44 IST