Latest North Korean Missile Test Reveals Capability to Hit Guam

By | May 14, 2017 10:18 PM EDT

Launch of a Hwasong-10 IRBM from which the Hwasong-12 seems to have been derived. (Photo : KCNA)

North Korea's latest test of what appears to be an extended range intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) seems to indicate its aim isn't to build an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the mainland United States, but to cow neighboring Asian countries into accepting its rise as a nuclear armed state.

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This latest analysis by some military analysts came immediately on the heels of North Korea's newest ballistic missile test on May 14. North Korean state-controlled media boasted its leader, Kim Jong-un, personally supervised the launch of the "Hwasong-12 missile," an apparently new missile or a heretofore unknown modification of the Hwasong-10 IRBM.

North Korea said "Hwasong-12" reached an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers and flew 787 kilometers. It said 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."

The IRBM launched near the city of Kusong in western North Korea flew across the country and before slamming into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) some 60 miles from Vladivostok in eastern Russia.

Japan's Ministry of Defense said the missile reached an altitude of 2,000 kilometers and flew for 30 minutes.

The missile launch was unanimously viewed as an insult to Chinese president Xi Jinping, who is hosting an international conference in Beijing promoting his One Belt, One Road project. Other analysts saw this missile launch as another learning process on the way to North Korea's development of a nuclear warhead-armed ICBM.

The height the missile flew suggests it has the range to reach Guam, an American territory and home to Andersen Air Force Base, through which the U.S. Air Force rotates its strategic bombers: the Rockwell B-1 Lancer; the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and the Boeing B-52G Stratofortress.

One analyst, however, said the test seems to indicate North Korea might have an altogether different aim for its continuing series of missile tests.

The missile's much longer range might give North Korea "a regional nuclear deterrence," believes Tong Zhao, an analyst with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.

This means North Korea's ultimate aim might not be to develop an ICBM that can strike the US mainland. North Korea's goal is to solidify its standing as Asia's only communist nuclear power apart from China.

An IRBM is a ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 km to 5,500 km.

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