by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Nov 28, 2017
North Korea's latest rocket launch saw it shoot an intercontinental ballistic missile higher than ever before, prompting US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to warn that Pyongyang could soon threaten "everywhere in the world."
The worrying assessment once again calls into question America's anti-missile capabilities, and whether it and its allies can protect themselves from the threat of a nuclear-tipped ICBM.
- How high? -
Defense officials did not elaborate on Mattis's remark about the missile's elevation, but on July 4, in a test that Kim Jong-Un called a gift for the "American bastards," a North Korean rocket soared to an altitude of 2,802 kilometers (1,741 miles) and flew 933 kilometers.
According to David Wright, a co-director and senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, news reports the missile reached more than 4,500 kilometers in altitude would give it a massive range.
"If these numbers are correct, then if flown on a standard trajectory rather than this lofted trajectory, this missile would have a range of more than 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles)," Wright wrote on his organization's blog.
"Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, DC, and in fact any part of the continental United States."
After the July 4 launch, experts had said Alaska was in range, so the latest test marks a dramatic and rapid increase in North Korea's potential reach.
- Missile defenses -
The United States has spent decades and billions of dollars developing technologies to stop an incoming ballistic missile, and the US military still has faith these systems can protect against a North Korean missile attack.
"The (South Korea)-US alliance remains confident that we can still defend against any North Korean threat," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said shortly after Tuesday's launch.
America and its allies have several technologies at their disposal, none of which is infallible.
To take out an ICBM, America has the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system at its disposal.
Installed at Fort Greely, about 100 miles outside Fairbanks in Alaska, and California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, the GMD can hit an incoming missile in space.
It was put to the test in May, when the military successfully launched a GMD interceptor from the California base.
The missile blasted outside Earth's atmosphere and smashed into a dummy ICBM target, destroying it in a direct collision.
But the GMD system has had a checkered record in previous tests -- failing in earlier launches against slower-moving targets -- and it could be overwhelmed by a barrage of incoming missiles.
- What other defenses? -
Aside from the GMD, the United States and its allies also have at their disposal what is known as the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (AEGIS).
The ship-based system's highly sensitive radars and sensors feed ICBM-tracking data to the GMD facilities in California and Alaska, and AEGIS is itself capable of intercepting shorter-range missiles.
Some experts say the AEGIS system may also one day have a limited ability to intercept ICBMs.
In the meantime, the US military this year began deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea, capable of destroying short, medium and intermediate-range missiles in their final phase of flight.
That move infuriated China, which has argued the deployment would further destabilize the situation on the Korean peninsula.
The US and its allies South Korea and Japan also have Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor batteries.
But these are designed to protect against a regional threat and would have limited effect against an ICBM.
In Europe, nations have an array of missile defenses but these are primarily focused against shorter range missiles that could come from Russia or the Middle East.
Key steps in North Korea's missile development
Here are the key steps in the development of the regime's banned weapons and nuclear programme.
- The beginnings, 1970s -
North Korea starts working in the late 1970s on a version of the Soviet Scud-B with a range of around 300 kilometres (around 200 miles), carrying out a first test in 1984.
Between 1987 and 1992 it begins developing longer range missiles, including the Taepodong-1 (2,500 km) and Taepodong-2 (6,700 km).
The Taepodong-1 is test-fired over Japan in 1998 but the following year Pyongyang declares a moratorium on such tests as ties with the United States improve.
- First nuclear test in 2006 -
It ends the moratorium in 2005, blaming the Bush administration's "hostile" policy, and carries out its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006.
In May 2009, there is a second underground nuclear test, several times more powerful than the first. Kim Jong-Un succeeds his father Kim Jong-Il, who dies in December 2011, and oversees a third nuclear test in 2013.
- 2016, Japanese waters reached -
There is a fourth underground nuclear test in January 2016, which Pyongyang claims is a hydrogen bomb.
In March, Kim Jong-Un claims the North has successfully miniaturised a thermo-nuclear warhead and in April it test-fires a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
On August 3, it fires, for the first time, a ballistic missile directly into Japanese-controlled waters; later that month it successfully test-fires another submarine-launched ballistic missile.
There is a fifth nuclear test on September 9.
- 2017, Japan and Guam under threat -
Between February and May, the North tests a series of ballistic missiles that fall into the Sea of Japan or that it claims are exercises to hit US bases in Japan.
A test on May 14 is of a "newly developed mid/long-range strategic ballistic rocket, Hwasong-12", Pyongyang says. It flies 700 kilometres before landing in the Sea of Japan.
Ahead of the first meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-In and US President Donald Trump, the North tests a rocket engine that could be fitted to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The following month it says it has successfully tested an ICBM capable of reaching Alaska, a gift for the "American bastards". There is a second successful ICBM test on July 28.
Hours after Trump threatens Pyongyang with "fire and fury" over its missile programme, the North says it is considering strikes near US strategic military installations in Guam.
On August 29, it fires a ballistic missile over Japan that Tokyo says is an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat".
- Largest nuclear test yet -
On September 3, North Korea conducts its sixth and largest nuclear test. Monitoring groups estimate a yield of 250 kilotons, which is 16 times the size of the 15-kiloton US bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
On September 15, less than a week after the UN adopts an eighth series of sanctions, North Korea fires a intermediate-range missile over Japan, at a distance of 3,700 kilometres (2,299 miles), according to Seoul.
On November 20 Washington declares North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, a day before it heaps pressure on the hermit state by slapping it with fresh sanctions.
On November 28 North Korea fires a new ballistic missile, which flies east from South Pyongan Province, the South Korean military Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) says.
Beijing (AFP) Nov 22, 2017
China on Wednesday rejected new United States sanctions targeting Chinese traders doing business with North Korea as "wrong", stressing that it has enforced UN sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear provocations. The Chinese companies were hit by punitive measures along with North Korean shipping interests after US President Donald Trump put Pyongyang back on a list of state sponsors of terroris ... read more
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