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By Ryan Pickrell
North Korea’s new intercontinental ballistic missile may have a greater range than analysts and observers initially thought.
North Korea tested the Hwasong-14 on July 4, and in the immediate aftermath, experts assessed that the range was somewhere between 3,700 and 4,300 miles, potentially putting Alaska within striking distances. Following additional analysis, some expert observers expressed concerns that the new North Korean missile may have a far greater range than they initially thought.
“The question is whether they tested this at full range,” Melissa Hanham, a leading arms expert and senior research associate at the East Asia Nonproliferation Program in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, explained to The Daily Caller News Foundation July 5 “For now, based on the testing data that is available on the open source, it puts Alaska in range, but the concern is that the range may actually be greater.”
The U.S. government suspects the new missile, which is officially designated as the KN-20, might have a range between 4,500 and 6,000 miles, senior editor at The Diplomat Ankit Panda reported Tuesday, citing American government sources with direct knowledge of the new ICBM.
Neither the Pentagon nor U.S. Pacific Command would comment on the accuracy of the report.
Jeffrey Lewis, another renowned arms expert and the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, arrived at a similar conclusion.
If North Korea’s new missile can, in fact, achieve a maximum range of 6,000 miles, that would put West Coast cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in danger.
John Schilling, an aerospace engineer with decades of experience analyzing North Korean missile technology, estimates that the range could be even farther, putting the U.S. naval base in San Diego with range of the new ICBM. He warns though that the weapon is unreliable and would be “lucky to hit even a city-sized target.”
“With a year or two of additional testing and development, it will likely become a missile that can reliably deliver a single nuclear warhead to targets along the US west coast, possibly with enough accuracy to destroy soft military targets like naval bases,” he further explained in a recent report. In perhaps five years, North Korea may be able to incorporate a modest suite of decoys and penetration aids to challenge U.S. missile defenses. Let’s hope US missile defenses are up to that challenge.
Questions pertaining to the effectiveness of the re-entry vehicle, the ability to carry a nuclear payload, and the overall reliability of the ICBM remain unanswered for the time being. Nonetheless, the North’s new weapon represents a serious national security threat for the U.S.
The U.S. conducted a successful ICBM interceptor test in late May. An interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California eliminated a mock long-range missile fired from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.
While the Missile Defense Agency derived confidence from the test, expert observers argue that the interceptor tests are not realistic enough to offer the kind of reassurance that would allow everyone to sleep better at night.