North Korea has successfully test-fired what appears to be an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. state of Alaska, experts say. It would mark a significant development for the country’s missile program if confirmed.
The missile was launched at 9:10 a.m. local time on Tuesday near Panghyon Airfield in North Pyongan Province, according to the U.S. and South Korean governments. It flew for more than half an hour before falling into waters off its eastern coast.
South Korea’s military said the missile had traveled more than 930 kilometers (577 miles) in distance, but U.S. Pacific Command said the missile had flown for 37 minutes, suggesting it reached an extremely high altitude. North Korea typically launches missiles into high altitudes to avoid reaching Japan.
Missile expert David Wright, a co-director of the Global Security Program at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said the data suggests the missile would be capable of flying roughly 6,700 kilometers (4,160 miles) if flown 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,” Wright said in an initial assessment. It would also mark North Korea’s first operational ICBM, which are missiles that are capable of flying more than 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles).
The exact type of missile was not immediately known and North Korea typically takes about a day to release information.
U.S. Pacific Command described the missile as an “intermediate range ballistic missile” but did not exclude the possibility of an ICBM. “We are working with our Interagency partners on a more detailed assessment. We continue to monitor North Korea’s actions closely,” the military said.
Japan said the projectile likely fell into waters of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and there were no reports of damage.
Tuesday’s test comes less than two months after North Korea fired a newly-developed mid-to-long range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam. North Korea hailed the launch as a major success and said the Hwasong-12 missile was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe said Tuesday’s test shows that North Korea’s threat is increasing, according to the Kyodo news agency. He added that he would seek to put more pressure on North Korea in coordination with South Korea and the United States.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss how to respond to the North’s missile test.
And in the United States, President Donald Trump condemned the launch in messages on his Twitter account. “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer,” he said, apparently referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump added: “Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
Tuesday’s test comes after months of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, fueled by North Korea’s missile tests and its advancing nuclear weapons program, as well as U.S. military exercises and statements by President Trump.
The most recent missile tests took place on June 8, when North Korea fired a salvo of short-range cruise missiles. Trump called Japanese and Chinese leaders on Sunday to discuss what the American leader called a “growing threat” from North Korea.
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