North Korea revealed a new mobile intercontinental ballistic missile during the dramatic July 4 flight test into the Sea of Japan as the Trump administration on Wednesday said it is ready to use force to counter the growing nuclear missile threat to the United States.
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York Wednesday that the missile test is an indication diplomatic solutions to the problem are fading.
“One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces,” she said. “We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction.”
The comments were made during an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. U.N. sanctions have been imposed in the past following long-range missile tests by North Korea.
North Korean state media hailed the July 4 flight test as part of what supreme leader Kim Jong Un called a “gift” for “American bastards.”
The official KCNA news outlet said Kim watched the launch of the new missile “with a broad smile on his face” and urged North Korean officials to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees.”
The flight test of the rogue state’s first ICBM was a setback for President Trump, who had been working with China in a bid to head off both the North Korean nuclear weapons program and its long-range missile programs that will deliver the arms.
Trump said several months ago on Twitter that a North Korean long-range missile test “won’t happen.”
After the July 4 launch, the president tweeted: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
On Wednesday, Trump suggested China had failed to rein in North Korea, a fraternal communist ally.
“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter,” Trump tweeted. “So much for China working with us—but we had to give it a try!”
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that U.S. missile defenses in Asia and in the United States were prepared to shoot down the missile if it posed a threat to the U.S. homeland or American allies in the region.
The missile was detected by satellite and other sensors and tracked for the entire 37-minute flight—the longest time of any ballistic missile launched by Pyongyang to date.
The launch occurred from a military airfield at Panghyon, about 62 miles north of the capital. Panghyon in the past was identified as near a covert North Korean uranium enrichment plant.
“We strongly condemn this act by North Korea,” Davis added. “It is escalatory. It is destabilizing. It is also dangerous,” Davis said.
The missile’s flight path traveled high into space before impacting into the water near northwestern Japan. The missile was fired with no warning to aircraft or ships in the area and traveled through busy airspace before landing in waters claimed as part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The flight test also posed a danger to satellites in space, Davis said, noting “all of this completely uncoordinated.”
“This act demonstrates that North Korea poses a threat to the United States and our allies, and we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat from North Korea,” Davis added.
U.S. and South Korean forces responded to the ICBM test by conducting flight tests of the Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATacMS, and a South Korean Hyunmoo Missile II. The missiles were fired into the territorial waters off the peninsula’s east coast. The ATacMS has a range of about 100 miles and is precision guided.
“This is a system that can be rapidly deployed and engaged, provides deep-strike precision capability that enables the Korea-U.S. alliance to engage a full array of time-critical targets under all weather conditions,” Davis said of the allied missile tests.
It was the first time a North Korean flight test was met by a U.S. and South Korean missile test in response.
The new ICBM, dubbed the Hwasong-14 by North Korea, was regarded as a flight test and not an armed-missile threat, and thus no action was taken by missile defenses.
Current regional missile defenses that are capable of intercepting the new North Korean missile include Aegis ships equipped with SM-3 missiles, a new battery of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, and long-range interceptors based in Alaska and California.
U.S. intelligence agencies initially assessed the flight test to be one of North Korea’s existing intermediate-range missiles considered as weapons with ranges of between 1,800 and 3,400 miles.
Further analysis, however, showed the missile has a range greater than 3,400 miles, a range considered intercontinental.
The flight distance between North Korea and Alaska is around 3,400 miles and the distance to Hawaii is around 4,800 miles. From North Korea to California is around 5,600 miles.
North Korea has boasted in state media reports that it has developed small warheads capable of being outfitted on its ballistic missiles.
Davis said North Korea’s warhead capability is unknown and that testing warheads to withstand the high temperatures of reentry into the atmosphere probably would require additional testing.
Davis said the missile was not one of North Korea’s first mobile ICBMs, the KN-08 or an advanced version called the KN-14. “It’s not one we’ve seen before,” he said.
The Free Beacon first reported in March 2016 that North Korea was developing the KN-14 variant of the KN-08.
Davis said the ICBM test does not mean North Korea has the long-range missile capability. “We’ve still not seen a number of things that would indicate a full-up threat, i.e., have they demonstrated the ability and mate a nuclear warhead to the missile? Have they conducted reentry in a way that it would actually be tactically employed?”
The missile used a very high trajectory to test its range, but it did not use the lateral range that tests a different type of reentry, he said.
“We’ve not seen those sorts of things yet, but clearly, they are working on it; clearly, they seek to do it,” Davis said, adding that the program is an aggressive research and development program. “And it’s one that we have sought from the beginning, with our ballistic missile defense system, to be able to outpace.”
Davis noted that the United States is capable of knocking out a North Korean ICBM using the current missile-defense system: “We just did a test last month where we simulated a North Korean ICBM and shot it down over the Pacific Ocean.”
The North Korea-watching think tank 38 North said the new ICBM differed from the KN-14, first shown in a military parade in 2015 in having a single main engine. The KN-14 was shown with a dual first stage engine.
“The new single engine is very similar to one used in last month’s test of the Hwasong-12 (a.k.a. KN-17) and is likely a new North Korean design,” 38 North’s John Schilling stated.
“Indeed, given the timing, it looks very much like the Hwasong-12 was being used to develop and test key technologies for the Hwasong-14, minimizing the chance of a politically embarrassing failure in the first flight of a North Korean ICBM.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned the latest missile test. “Global action is required to stop a global threat,” he said. “Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.”
“The United States will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” he added.