North Korea launched its most powerful rocket ever Wednesday, the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile seemingly capable of hitting the mainland United States. Yet fresh analysis of the weapon suggests Pyongyang is still many months away from being able to strike the West Coast, let alone the Eastern Seaboard.
Michael Elleman, a leading missile expert, said despite making progress, “a viable ICBM capable of reaching the West Coast of the U.S. mainland still remains about a year away.”
Initial analysis suggested the range of the ICBM was more than 8,000 miles, putting the East Coast — including the White House and Mar-a-Lago — in range. However, Elleman argues that this is only for a rocket with a nuclear payload of less than 150kg — something Pyongyang is not yet capable of producing.
The analysis jars with the claim of North Korea’s state news agency, which said the ICBM “tipped with super-large heavy warhead…is capable of striking the whole mainland of the U.S.”
A glut of images and video footage, broadcast Thursday by state television, has given rocket experts a trove of new material to analyze.
Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the size of the rocket alone puts North Korea among a very select group of countries.
Scott LaFoy, a missile and satellite imagery expert, noted that the missile launcher was a modified version of a Chinese vehicle, countering Pyongyang’s claims it was manufactured in North Korea.
LaFoy also said the way the launcher operated would aid the U.S. in countering any launch.
“This means that this vehicle pulls up to a specific piece of infrastructure, erects the missile, detaches from the firing table, and leaves,” he told NK News. “Since the U.S. and ROK are focused on precision, snap responses, this makes a big difference during crises.”
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told a Security Council meeting that Kim Jong Un’s decision to test another missile has brought the world “closer to war.”
“If war comes, make no mistake: The North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed,” she added.