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This undated photo released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 30, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting a test-fire of a ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea.
North Korea’s Academy of Defense Science, in a bit of hyperbole, said the test of what it called the Hwasong-14 marked the “final step” in creating a “confident and powerful nuclear state that can strike anywhere on Earth.”
South Korea’s Defense Ministry, in a report to lawmakers, tentatively concluded that North Korea test-fired a “new missile with an ICBM-class range” of more than 5,500 kilometers. But the ministry said it’s not certain if the test was successful because Seoul couldn’t verify if the North has mastered re-entry technology for an ICBM. The ministry said North Korea may now conduct a nuclear test with “boosted explosive power” to show off a warhead to be mounted on a missile.
The launch sends a political warning to Washington and its chief Asian allies, Seoul and Tokyo, while also allowing North Korean scientists a chance to perfect their still-incomplete nuclear missile program. It came days after the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Moon and ahead of a summit of the world’s richest economies.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the British Armed Forces Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, said that “in capability of missile terms and delivery, it is a major step up and they seem to be making progress week-on-week.” He added, however, that “actually marrying the warhead to the missile is probably the biggest challenge, which they appear not to have progressed on.”
North Korea has a reliable arsenal of shorter-range missiles and is thought to have a small number of atomic bombs, but is still trying to perfect its longer-range missiles. Some outside civilian experts believe the North has the technology to mount warheads on shorter-range Rodong and Scud missiles that can strike South Korea and Japan, two key U.S. allies where about 80,000 American troops are stationed. But it’s unclear if it has mastered the technology needed to build an atomic bomb that can fit on a long-range missile.