N. Korea tests intercontinental missile

The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 is seen during its test launch. Photo: Reuters
The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 is seen during its test launch. Photo: Reuters

North Korea said on Tuesday (local time) it successfully test-launched a first intercontinental ballistic missile, (ICBM), which analysts said could put all of the US state of Alaska in range for the first time.

US networks Fox News and NBC said US officials had told them they believed Tuesday's test was of an ICBM, marking a worrying milestone in Pyongyang's missile development. CNN quoted officials as saying it was probably a two-stage ICBM.

The United States requested a closed-door meeting of the 15-member UN Security Council on the launch, a session likely to be scheduled for Wednesday, a spokesman for the US mission to the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The launch, on the eve of US Independence Day, took place days before leaders from the Group of 20 nations were due to discuss steps to rein in North Korea's weapons program, which it has pursued in defiance of Security Council sanctions.

North Korea's state media said the launch was ordered and supervised by leader Kim Jong Un and sent the Hwasong-14 930km, reaching an altitude of 2800km over a flight time of 39 minutes.

North Korea has said it is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US mainland, something US President Donald Trump vowed in January would never happen.

Some analysts said the flight details suggested the new missile had a range of more than 8000km, which would put significant parts of the US mainland in range, representing major advances in its program.

David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said the flight time and distance suggested the missile could travel about 6700 m, bringing all of Alaska into range.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the missile was believed to be an intermediate-range type, but the military was looking into the possibility it was an ICBM.

The Pentagon and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the TV network reports but said the US government was working on a more detailed assessment of the launch. On Monday night, the Pentagon described the missile as an intermediate-range type that traveled for 37 minutes.

US-based missile expert John Schilling, a contributor to the Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, 38 North, said the launch was both earlier and "far more successful than expected."

He said it would now probably only be a year or two before a North Korean ICBM achieved "minimal operational capability" and it was likely the initial test did not perform as well as an operational missile would.

"Still, this missile demonstrated a degree of performance that is beyond what is needed to reach Anchorage - or Pearl Harbor - but not quite sufficient to reliably reach targets on the US West Coast," he said.

Schilling said the US national missile defense system was "only minimally operational" and would take more than two years to upgrade to provide more reliable defence.

North Korea said its missiles were now capable of striking anywhere in the world.

Officials from South Korea, Japan and the United States said the missile landed in the sea in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone after being launched on a high trajectory.

Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Seoul's Kyungnam University, said that if launched on a standard angle, the missile could have a range of more than 8,000 km (4,970 miles).

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