NORTH Korea’s nuclear missiles can now hit anywhere in the United States, defence chiefs have acknowledged, confirming what has been suspected since Pyongyang’s infamous weapons tests in 2017.
US Forces Korea (USFK) published its 2019 Strategic Digest on Thursday, setting out the current situation with respect to forces on the Korean peninsula. The report summarised North Korea’s current intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) arsenal, and confirmed the 8000-mile range of the largest weapon at Kim Jong-un’s disposal – the Hwasong-15, which had its first and only launch in November 2017. The USFK document said it was “capable of striking any part of the continental United States”.
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper cited an unnamed military source as saying analysis was based on “comprehensive analysis of intelligence data collected from satellite, aircraft and radar surveillance of missile launches”.
After the Hwasong-15’s launch two years ago, North Korea claimed the missile could carry a “super-large warhead which is capable of striking the whole mainland of the US”.
The Hwasong-15 flew for 53 minutes, peaking at an altitude of around 2,796 miles before descending and landing within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, travelling about 596 miles.
The Hwasong-15 is designed to carry a nuclear warhead, but it is not yet confirmed whether North Korea has managed to mount a nuclear payload on the missile.
The range will be reduced by any payload it carries, the report clarifies.
It remains unclear whether the missile successfully re-entered into the Earth’s atmosphere, with both Washington and Seoul said this needed further clarification, although Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera claimed the missile broke apart before landing in the sea.
The USFK report did not address discuss the issue, but the conclusion about its range suggests analysts think it is can re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and therefore hit targets.
Apart from the Hwasong-15, North Korea also has the Hwasong-13, with a range of 3,418 miles, and the Hwasong-14 with a range of 6,250 miles, which if accurate would mean the latter could also hit some areas of the US mainland.
When the Hwasong-15 was first launched, some observers though the missile was just a modified version of the Hwasong-14 until closer analysis proved it was a new and more powerful weapon.
Tensions between the US and North Korea eased somewhat last year after US President Donald Trump met Kim at a historic summit in Singapore.
Mr Trump has met Kim on two further occasions, most recently shaking hands with the North Korean Supreme Leader in the demilitarised zone which separates the North and South.
However, no verifiable progress has yet been made on North Korea’s stated intention giving up its nuclear weapons programme.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s acquisition of American F-35 stealth fighter jets will force North Korea to develop and test “special armaments” to destroy the new weapons, North Korea’s state media said on Thursday, citing a government researcher.
South Korean authorities are “impudent and pitiful” for “talking loudly about reconciliation and cooperation between the north and the south” while buying more weapons from the United States, an unnamed policy research director at the Institute for American Studies of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.
It continued: “There is no room for doubt that the delivery of ‘F-35A’, which is also called an ‘invisible lethal weapon’, is aimed at securing military supremacy over the neighbouring countries in the region and especially opening a ‘gate’ to invading the north in time of emergency on the Korean peninsula.
”We, on our part, have no other choice but to develop and test the special armaments to completely destroy the lethal weapons reinforced in south Korea.”
Capable of striking any part of the continental United States