The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) described its July 4 test launch of the Hwasong-14 missile as a “gift package” for the “American bastards” on the US’ Independence Day, and hinted that there would be further launches in the future.
John Schilling, an aerospace engineer with the 38 North watchdog site, said the projectile has an estimated range of 7,000-8,000 kilometres, putting both Alaska and Hawaii within strike range.
"If the Hwasong-14 is put together the way we think it is," he wrote, "it can probably do a bit better than that when all the bugs are worked out."
Schilling estimates that a missile carrying a 500kg warhead could have a range of 9,700 kilometers. "The North Koreans won't be able to achieve this performance tomorrow, but they likely will eventually," though such a weapon would be "lucky to hit even a city-sized target," given the North’s limited re-entry technology.
The engineer added, however, that with "a year or two of additional testing and development," it would "likely become a missile that can reliably deliver a single nuclear warhead to targets along the US west coast, possibly with enough accuracy to destroy soft military targets like naval bases," such as those in San Diego.
North Korea’s missile technology development has grown swiftly under leader Kim Jong-un, despite the UN Security Council banning this activity. This, along with staging five nuclear tests – two in the last year – has ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
The US is reportedly preparing to level sanctions against the North by targeting Chinese businesses that funnel money to the North Korean government.
The US continues to lean on China to help restrain its North Korean ally, but Beijing has said that since it isn’t responsible for the tense climate on the Korean Peninsula, the onus shouldn’t be on it to resolve the crisis.
Beijing has also sharply criticized the US for deploying its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, which it blames for making a tense situation in the region worse. Analysts also believe Beijing may fear THAAD’s radar could be used to spy on Chinese military activities, an allegation Washington has staunchly denied.