What’s Different About North Korea’s Latest Missile Launch (And Why Washington Should Worry)

May 18, 2017

The Heritage Foundation:

aturday marked another breakthrough in North Korea’s broad array of missile programs. Pyongyang successfully launched a new system that could target U.S. bases in Guam. It is now one step closer to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could eventually threaten the continental United States.

Pyongyang announced that the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile flew 490 miles, but at an apogee of 1,300 miles. Experts assess that, had the missile been flown at a normal trajectory, it could have reached 2,800 miles. Guam is but 2,200 miles from North Korea.

The regime declared that the missile can carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead.”

When first revealed in last month’s military parade in Pyongyang, the Hwasong-12 appeared to be a shortened version of the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile. It may be a replacement or augmentation for the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, even as it serves as a testbed for technologies for the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile.

Saturday’s successful launch means Pyongyang’s quest to develop an ICBM is progressing more quickly than previously thought. This January, analysts greeted with skepticism Kim Jong-un’s claim that he had an intercontinental ballistic missile in the “late stages of development.” There are far fewer skeptics today.

Saturday’s launch may have been the missile’s maiden test flight. While much has been made of North Korea’s numerous missile-launch failures, those have been concentrated in systems still under development. For comparison, the United States had very high failure rates in the initial development of its Redstone, Vanguard, Atlas, and Titan missile programs.

Kim Jong-un has greatly accelerated the development and testing programs of all ranges of North Korea’s missile systems. During his five years in power, he has overseen three times as many missile launches as his father did during his eighteen-year reign. This is the tenth North Korean missile launch this year.

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International Cooperation