How three recent launches signaled new leaps in North Korea’s missile capabilities

The Washington Post reports: It wasn’t a big surprise, but it was a big deal — so much so that North Korea issued commemorative stamps. Two successful missile launches in July almost certainly proved that the country had produced an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States. And according to U.S. intelligence analysts, the country also has nuclear warheads small enough to fit on them.

Nonproliferation experts had long assumed that the secretive country’s nuclear capability was further along than many people wanted to believe, but seeing the proof was still jarring, particularly because the successful tests came less than a month apart.

North Korea has launched 14 missile tests in 2017, and 10 were successful, according to a database maintained by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. A test in May and the two in July represented giant leaps forward in technology.

The missile tested in May was an intermediate-range projectile that on a more horizontal trajectory could probably reach Guam, according to physicist David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program. On Aug. 8 and 9, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to attack Guam, a key U.S. air and naval site, after President Trump warned of “fire and fury” if North Korea made more threats.

The missiles tested in July were the ones the world had been dreading: two-stage Hwasong-14 ICBMs that appeared quite capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. A two-stage rocket has a second fuel supply that takes over when the first burns out, allowing it to fly farther than a single-stage rocket.

Wright calculated that, depending on fuel, the weight of a warhead and the rotation of Earth, the first ICBM would have been able to reach Alaska. Much of the continental United States would be in range of the second one, he said, including New York and Boston. Washington, D.C., probably would be just outside it. [Continue reading…]

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