By John Ikani
North Korea initiated a potential intercontinental ballistic missile launch early Monday, revealing an apparent enhancement in the reliability of the secretive nation’s illicit weapons program.
A preliminary evaluation by the Japanese Defense Ministry suggested that the missile possesses the capability to reach any part of the United States.
“The ICBM-class ballistic missile launched this time could have a flying range of over 15,000 kilometers,” stated Shingo Miyake, parliamentary vice-minister of defense, emphasizing the alarming reach during a press conference in Tokyo.
The missile, launched at a highly lofted trajectory, covered approximately 6,000 kilometers in altitude and 1,000 kilometers in distance, eventually descending into the sea west of northern Japan’s Hokkaido.
However, experts assert that for an effective strike on the United States, the missile would need to be fired at a flatter trajectory, a capability yet to be proven by Pyongyang.
Joseph Dempsey from the International Institute for Strategic Studies highlighted the limitations of lofted tests, stating that they do not fully replicate the challenges of a standard ICBM trajectory, including reentry challenges and accuracy over longer distances.
While the specific missile type was undisclosed, Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies suggested it could be the third test of the Hwasong-18 missile, marking a significant maturation of North Korea’s missile program.
The Hwasong-18, a solid-fueled ICBM, represents a notable advancement over its liquid-fueled predecessor, the Hwasong-17.
Solid-fueled missiles are deemed more stable and easily transportable, providing North Korea with the capability for quicker and more discreet long-range nuclear strikes.
North Korea’s consistent missile launches reflect its commitment to enhancing military capabilities and gathering crucial data for refining missile technology.
Kim Jong-un’s ambition to match the military prowess of nations like the United States and European countries is evident in the progression from the Hwasong-17 last year to the more advanced Hwasong-18 this year.
The recent launch, North Korea’s second ballistic missile test in less than 24 hours, follows a shorter-range ballistic missile launch towards the Korean Peninsula’s east coast.
The country’s Defense Ministry condemned what they labelled as “reckless military provocations” by the US and South Korea, citing joint military exercises and the establishment of an extended deterrence system.
While North Korea’s actions and rhetoric may heighten tensions, some experts, including Leif-Eric Easley from Ewha University in Seoul, believe they inadvertently contribute to increased trilateral cooperation among the US, Japan, and South Korea.
The cooperation includes real-time sharing of missile tracking data, showcasing a coordinated response to North Korea’s strategic moves.