Updated at 1:55 a.m. ET
North Korea says the missile it tested earlier Tuesday was its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a claim that would put the continental United States within its range.
North Korea is “a full-fledged nuclear power that has been possessed of the most powerful inter-continental ballistic rocket capable of hitting any part of the world,” a North Korean television announcement said.
The announcement said the Hwasong-14 missile reached an altitude of 2,802 kilometers (1,731 miles) and traveled 933 kilometers for 39 minutes before hitting a target in the Sea of Japan. Earlier reports from both South Korea and Japan said the missile traveled 578 miles (930 kilometers) and flew for around 40 minutes. Japan’s Defense Ministry said the missile “greatly exceeded” an altitude of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles). The Japanese government said the missile landed in its exclusive economic zone, prompting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to tell reporters the launch “ignores repeated warnings from the international community” and constitutes an increased threat.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch, the North Korean TV report added. International experts initially dismissed the claim, but later Tuesday upon reviewing data, intelligence officials told CNN and NBC News that the rocket was likely to have been a two-stage ICBM. David Wright, co-director and senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a blog post:
Assuming a range of 950 km, then a flight time of 37 minutes would require it to reach a maximum altitude of more than 2,800 km (1700 miles).
So if the reports are correct, that same missile could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700 km (4,160 miles) on a standard trajectory.
That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.
North Korea is widely believed to be developing an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, though President Trump had said on Twitter in January that “will not happen”—though its not exactly clear what steps the U.S. will take to prevent what many security experts say is all but inevitable. The reality, General David Petraeus, the former CIA director, said last week is that Kim “could have a nuclear device that could actually strike Los Angeles or San Francisco” during Trump’s first term.