The North Korean government, by way of their state-run news agencies KCNA and Korean Central Telivision, has released a four-minute long video of the launch of their newest missile platform, confirmed by U.S. intelligence to be a true ICBM, called the Hwasong-14.
The launch, which occurred on Monday, demonstrated a significant leap forward in North Korea’s missile technology. It reached a maximum altitude of over 1,700 miles before reentering the earth’s atmosphere and splashing down somewhere in the sea between North Korea and Japan, some 590 miles from its launch point. Based on the missile’s trajectory and the altitude it reached, U.S. experts estimate North Korea’s new ICBM could easily strike targets at a range of greater than 4,000 miles – placing almost the entirety of Alaska within their scope, and requiring very little to extend its reach onto the mainland United States.
“A flight time of 37 minutes would require it to reach a maximum altitude of more than 2,800 km (1700 miles),” missile expert David Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy group in Cambridge, Massachusetts wrote in a blog post yesterday.
“So if the reports are correct, that same missile could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700 km (4,160 miles) on a standard trajectory. That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.”
In order to qualify as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) by traditional standards, a missile must be able to cover a distance of at least 3,400 miles (5,500km), placing their newest missile well past the minimum requirements.
The video released by the North Korean government shows the ICBM being transported via a converted Chinese timber truck, now a transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) used as a mobile method of deployment for such missiles, making them far more difficult to track and target. The musical choice laid over the short video is reminiscent of the score one might expect in a film about Cold War era Soviet threats like “The Hunt for Red October,” rather than a domestic propaganda film. It goes on to show the missile launching from multiple angles as the music builds to a dramatic climax before closing with what appears to be on-board footage of the missile high above the earth.
But then, the release of this film may betray its actual purpose: rather than domestic propaganda, this short video is likely intended specifically for the international community. Kim Jong-un now potentially possesses the very weapon the United States and its allies have feared he would one day acquire: a global strike weapons platform that can deliver nuclear warheads.
Despite North Korea’s claims that they have already miniaturized their warheads sufficiently to equip in such a missile, the international intelligence community has yet to come to a consensus as to whether or not such claims can be believed. North Korea, and its media mouthpiece KCNA, are both prone to exaggeration when it comes to their military capabilities.
In any regard, this new platform can be considered a game changer for the developing situation on the Korean peninsula.
In an emergency UN Security Council meeting held on Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley explained that North Korea was “quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution.”
“One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction,” Haley told the UN.
Watch North Korea’s own video of the launch below:
Image courtesy of North Korean State News Agency KCNA