North Korea’s test-fire of a ballistic missile proved that it was capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, state news agency KCNA said Monday, May 14.
Quoted on CNN, the KCNA said the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, supervised the launch of the Hwasong-12 missile that reached an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers (1,312 miles) and flew 787 kilometers (489 miles).
The test was “aimed at verifying the tactical and technological specifications of the newly developed ballistic rocket capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead,” KCNA said.
North Korea warned the US not to provoke it, saying the “US mainland and Pacific operations” were within range of North Korean missiles, KCNA said.
US officials said the missile launched near the city of Kusong, in western North Korea, flew across the country and into the Sea of Japan/East Sea, hitting the water about 60 miles from Vladivostok in eastern Russia.
Russia, however, said the missile fell 310 miles (500 kilometers) from its coast, according to a report on RT.com.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said the missile reached an altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) and flew for 30 minutes.
“It is possibly a new type of missile,” Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said.
The high altitude and longer flight time indicate a missile with an extended range, according to David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Writing on his organization’s blog, Wright pointed out that if the missile did reach that height and fly that long, it could reach the US territory of Guam in the Pacific.
Guam is home to Andersen Air Force Base, through which the US Air Force rotates heavy bombers including B-1s, B-2s and B-52s.
The missile test on Sunday, May 13, “points to a new threshold of capability potentially crossed,” said Euan Graham, an expert on North Korea at Australia’s Lowy Institute.
Tong Zhao, an analyst with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, said if the missile does have the range to hit Guam, it could give North Korea “a regional nuclear deterrence,” meaning it might not need to pursue an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which could reach the US mainland.
But Graham said it could be a stepping stone to just that.
North Korean engineers “may well be able to draw warhead re-entry data from that which is applicable to their ICBM ambitions,” he said.
Russia responded to North Korea’s test by putting its far eastern air defenses on high alert, according to a report from the RIA-Novosti news agency.
“We cannot fail to understand that the territory of Russia is not only an object for attack but also a place where a missile may fall. In order to protect ourselves from possible incidents, we will keep our air defense systems in the Far East in a state of increased combat readiness,” Viktor Ozerov, head of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, is quoted as saying.
The US called for repercussions from the international community.
“With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil — in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan — the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” the statement said.
“Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement.
China called for restraint by all parties.
“The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complex and sensitive. All sides should exercise restraint and refrain from taking actions that would further escalate tensions in the region,” a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch in a quick doorstep interview with reporters.
“Despite strong warning from the international community, North Korea launched a ballistic missile again,” Abe said. “This is totally unacceptable and we strongly protest it. North Korea’s missile launch is a serious threat to Japan and clearly violate against the UN resolution.”
The projectile launch comes two weeks after a ballistic missile test that South Korean and US officials said failed.
That missile, launched April 29, blew up over land in North Korean territory, according to a spokesman for the US Pacific Command.
Before Sunday, North Korea had attempted at least nine missile launches on six occasions since US President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January.