By CHOE SANG-HUN
© 2017 New York Times News Service
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Tuesday that it had successfully conducted its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, claiming a milestone in its efforts to build nuclear weapons capable of hitting the mainland United StatesThe announcement came hours after a launch that the U.S. military said sent the missile aloft for 37 minutes. That duration, analysts said, suggested a significant improvement in the range of the North’s missiles, and it might allow one to travel as far as 4,000 miles and hit Alaska.
The missile took off from the Banghyon airfield in the town of
If the missile took 37 minutes to fly 578 miles, that would mean that it had a highly lofted trajectory, probably reaching an altitude of more than 1,700 miles, said David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Such a missile would have a maximum range of roughly 4,160 miles, or 6,700 kilometers, on a standard trajectory, he said. North Korea said the missile, which it identified as the Hwasong-14, flew for 39 minutes.
“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,” Wright wrote in a blog post.
The missile looked like the longest-range missile that North Korea had ever tested, and its long flight time was “more consistent with an ICBM that can target Alaska and perhaps Hawaii,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
“It’s a very big deal — it looks like North Korea tested an ICBM,” he said by email. “Even if this is a 7,000-km-range missile, a 10,000-km-range missile that can hit New York isn’t far off.”
But analysts also cautioned that although they have been impressed by the rapid and steady progress in the North’s missile programs, the long flight time itself did not suggest that North Korea had mastered the complex technologies needed to build a reliable nuclear-tipped ICBM.