North Korea launches another missile, escalating crisis

The New York Times reports: North Korea fired another ballistic missile over Japan on Friday, a direct challenge to the United States and China just days after a new sanctions resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council that was intended to force the country to halt its accelerating nuclear and missile tests.

The missile was not aimed at the Pacific island of Guam, which President Trump had warned could prompt a military response after North Korea threatened to fire missiles into the sea near the island last month.

Instead, it blasted off from near the Sunan International Airport north of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, and flew about 2,300 miles directly east, flying over northern Japan and falling into the Pacific Ocean, according to the South Korean military. That is a slightly greater distance than between the North Korean capital and the American air base in Guam, and American officials, scrambling to assess both the symbolism and importance of the test, said it was clearly intended to make the point that the North could reach the base with ease. [Continue reading…]

David Wright writes: Guam lies 3,400 km from North Korea, and Pyongyang has talked about it as a target because of the presence of US forces at Anderson Air Force Base.

This missile very likely has low enough accuracy that it could be difficult for North Korea to use it to destroy this base, even if the missile was carrying a high-yield warhead. Two significant sources of inaccuracy of an early generation missile like the Hwasong-12 are guidance and control errors early in flight during boost phase, and reentry errors due to the warhead passing through the atmosphere late in flight. I estimate the inaccuracy of the Hwasong-12 flown to this range to be likely 5 to 10 km, although possibly larger.

Even assuming the missile carried a 150 kiloton warhead, which may be the yield of North Korea’s recent nuclear test, a missile of this inaccuracy would still have well under a 10% chance of destroying the air base. [Continue reading…]

Ankit Panda writes: Friday’s trajectory also had similarities to the last Hwasong-12 launch. One of the features of the August 29 trajectory that was immediately notable was how it crossed over Japanese territory roughly in the vicinity of the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. The only major Japanese urban center to fall under the missile’s trajectory was Hakodate in Hokkaido. The trajectory almost appeared to have been designed to allow North Korea to test its missiles to a longer range while overflying as little of Japan’s territory as necessary. The launch was no doubt still provocative, but the provocation was more muted than it would have been had North Korea simply overflown Honshu, near the population-defense Kanto region, for example.

North Korea repeated this azimuthal approach with Friday’s launch. One important difference was that the missile this time flew to a range of 3,700 kilometers. That suggested this was North Korea’s first test attempt of the Hwasong-12 IRBM to full-range at a trajectory close to what’s known as the minimum energy trajectory—the most efficient trajectory that allows for a maximization of the missile’s range. Remember: North Korea basically told us it was going to do this. We’d been warned. With two tests along this trajectory, we should have a much better idea of what is likely to become a regular-use missile corridor for North Korean long-range testing.

The second test along this trajectory without any attempt at interception or any reaction from Japan and the United States beyond rhetoric will likely not serve to deter North Korea from future launches. Pyongyang will keep using this trajectory for long-range missile tests, fully aware that the two allies are likely incapable of or unwilling to attempt interception. The Hwasong-14 intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) will likely be the next to see flight-testing along this trajectory. [Continue reading…]

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