[North Korea] North Korea Has All the Parts of a Long Range Missile

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ISC Advisor Lee Jung Chul, Professor at Soongsil University, believes North Korea has shown it’s mastered all the components of launching a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the continental United States. US commanders are already assuming North Korea has a functional warhead. And, while North Korea cannot directly test an ICBM – such test would be a declaration of war – it has shown its capability by testing the different components involved in launching an ICBM separately.

These components can be divided into: launching a missile at a sufficiently high altitude to travel thousands of miles, guiding the missile to its target, and surviving re-entry into the atmosphere. The rocket launch this February 7 showed that North Korea can send a multi-stage rocket into orbit capable of traveling thousands of miles. What is left is missile guidance and more importantly re-entry. Lee points out that even a crude missile guidance system would be sufficient given the expansive target that would be the US west coast. As regards the far more difficult challenge of withstanding re-entry without detonation, Lee points out that North Korea has proven possession of this capability. A ground test simulating the intense heat of reentry turned up against the nose of an ICBM showed that the bomb payload would not detonate upon reentry into the atmosphere. Furthermore, after the South Korean government denounced the ground tests as false, on March 18, North Korea launched two mid-range missiles, one detonated shortly after launching, but the other reached an altitude of 430 kilometers and re-entered to hit a target 800 kilometers away. An altitude of 200 kilometers would have been sufficient to reach the target, yet the mid-range missile was brought to an altitude of 430 kilometers. Lee speculates that the higher arc was meant to test and show re-entry capability from such altitude which would be sufficient for an ICBM. Given this reality, Lee believes that the United States should and will eventually negotiate with North Korea. “In a game of chicken, it’s the party that has nothing to lose that wins.”

by Dae-Han Song (chief editor, World Current Report) Interviewee: Professor Lee Jung Chul (ISC Advisor)