North Korea Tests Intercontinental Range Missile Capable of Striking Cities Across America: First in Almost Five Years

On March 24 North Korea launched an intercontinental range ballistic missile over the Sea of Japan, which flew for for 71 minutes at an inclined trajectory taking it over 6000km into space before returning. It demonstrating likely the longest range ever for a Korean missile, and landed in international waters. The launch sparked harsh criticisms from Japan and South Korea, and came at a time when the United States and its Western allies have largely been preoccupied by tensions with Russia and war in Eastern Europe. The test is hardly the first of a North Korean ICBM, but is the first in almost five years after a moratorium on testing was intended to leave room for negotiations with the United States. The U.S. had repeatedly come close to attacking the East Asian country, and North Korea's missile program has been primarily aimed against it. The previous test in November 2017 saw North Korea launch the Hwasong-15 ICBM, which was its first that could strike targets across the U.S. mainland as far east as New York City. The ability of North Korea to engage targets across the United States with nuclear-tipped missiles was confirmed by U.S. intelligence on multiple occasions. 

It was reported by Japanese sources that North Korea’s latest launch was of a new ICBM design, which is speculated to be the Hwasong-16 unveiled in October 2020. The missile is thought to be capable of carrying multiple warheads, and is the largest road mobile missile in the world with deployments from transporter erector launchers ensuring high survivability. The new test may well be the first of many of long ranged missiles planned, and follows 12 prior tests of shorter ranged missiles since the beginning of the year. These have included medium range missiles with hypersonic glide vehicles, which North Korea is expected to be only the third in the world to deploy after Russia and China. Pairing a hypersonic glide vehicle with an ICBM could well be the next step in North Korea’s program to modernise its strategic deterrent, with the Hwasong-16 being a potential carrier. North Korea and the United States have been technically at war since June 1950, and nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles have been at the heart of Korean efforts to develop a viable deterrent force.

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